Y Combinator's Vitable Health is bringing basic healthcare to underserved populations

Jonathan Shieber
HIALEAH, FL - AUGUST 08: Barbara Dale, a school nurse, prepares an immunization needle for a child August 8, 2007 in Hialeah, Florida. The free immunization is part of the Miami-Dade County Health Department's program to help children heading back to school. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joseph Kitonga, the 23-year-old entrepreneur behind Vitable Health, first saw the need for a new kind of healthcare service growing up in Philadelphia and seeing the experience of the home healthcare workers who worked at his parents' business.

The Kitongas immigrated to the United States a decade ago and settled down in Philadelphia, where they started a home-care business matching workers with patients in need. What was surprising to the younger Kitonga was that the people who worked for his parents taking care of others couldn't afford basic healthcare coverage themselves.

It was that observation that provided the seed for the business idea that would become Vitable Health, Kitonga's first business and a recent member of Y Combinator's latest summer cohort.

The company provides affordable acute healthcare coverage to underinsured or un-insured populations and was born out of his experience watching employees of his parents' home healthcare agency struggle to receive basic healthcare coverage.

A lot of caregivers make $10 per hour, which is too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford health insurance, Kitonga says.

Even with the Affordable Care Act, many workers in the home-care business that Kitonga's parents ran in Philadelphia were unable to receive care.

So Kitonga built a service that could cover everything but catastrophic coverage for lower costs than the company's customers would have to pay if they went to an urgent care facility.

Vitable is able to lower the cost of care through its use of nurse practitioners instead of doctors to provide the care. For a small monthly fee, the company will send providers to make house calls or customers can receive a consultation over the phone.

"We focus on acute and preventive coverage," says Kitonga. "Most high deductible plans are geared toward providing catastrophic coverage."

What Kitonga saw with his parents' employees was that they would wind up going to the emergency room and put $1,300 in charges on their credit cards rather than pay for insurance per month.

Vitable's lowest plan levels start at $15 per month and the co-payment is $30, according to Kitonga. Vitable's technicians will do in-home lab tests.

There's just no low-cost care option available for the population that Kitonga wants to serve, he said. These are people who will be referred to emergency rooms by nearby care providers because they lack the necessary insurance. "The population that we service has been ignored by healthcare providers," said Kitonga.

For now, the service is only available in Philadelphia, but Kitonga says there are already 1,000 people who receive care through Vitable. "We work with a lot of small businesses that might have 10 or 20 employees," Kitonga said.