COVID-19 has brought about exceptional challenges to the U.S. health care system, but the crisis has acutely impacted certain patient populations over others. As evidenced by higher infection and morbidity rates among low-income, Black, Latino, and other communities of color relative to their counterparts, the health crisis has had a disproportionate impact on these patient populations — many of whom are served by Medicaid. The disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 underscore the challenges faced by Medicaid patients in unequal access to health care and unmet social needs, as well as the profound racial injustices that exacerbate health inequities.

Health care startups and innovators can play a critical role in addressing these issues. However, it can be challenging for Medicaid stakeholders to find and implement solutions that improve services for the patients they serve. Between April and June 2020, Adaptation Health, Acumen America, and the Center for Health Care Strategies, partnered to host a series of “demo days” to connect Medicaid stakeholders with innovators who could help address issues of access, quality, and unmet social needs exacerbated by COVID-19. This resulting paper shares the design process to select and connect early-stage startups to Medicaid payers, profiles of the selected companies, and insights from a series of panels on the opportunities and obstacles in serving vulnerable populations during the pandemic. It focuses on three key issue areas that have been exaggerated by COVID-19, where many promising innovations have been launched: access to care, with a focus on maternal health and behavioral health solutions; health-related social needs; and social isolation.