Many people rely on services like Uber and Lyft to make their lives easier. Could these services help the millions of Medicaid, Medicare, and low-income Americans for whom transportation can be a major barrier to accessing health care?
Uber and Lyft have been rolling out services to help transport patients to medical appointments. MedStar Health, a health system serving patients in the Washington, DC area, partnered with Uber earlier this year to provide their patients with reliable transportation. Patients can enter their location through a link on the MedStar Health web site, along with the date and time of their appointment, and their ride is scheduled. They can opt for appointment reminders and they can get a cost estimate as well. For lower income patients, MedStar is piloting a program to subsidize rides.
Uber is also partnering with a Boston-based startup, Circulation, a company that makes software to manage non-emergency medical transportation for patients. Its main target groups are older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income populations. Circulation and Uber are piloting a program to transport patients to and from certain health care facilities. Uber can use Circulation’s software to connect to the hospital or clinic, so the facility can schedule rides for patients. Uber also handles the billing. The software can send reminders and real-time updates via phone call or text message to patients and caregivers. Medicare and Medicaid pay for some of the rides through vouchers.
Lyft is also testing a pilot program with the National MedTrans Network, which arranges nonemergency medical transportation for patients. The program allows MedTrans operators to book a Lyft ride for clients using a web-based dashboard. This feature helps seniors who do not own a smartphone take advantage of the ride-hailing service, which typically finds riders through a mobile app.
Another potential advantage of the Lyft and MedTrans Network partnership could be reducing ambulance fraud. In 2015, the government reported that Medicare paid more than $50 million in potential fraudulent bills to ambulance companies who billed for providing rides to seniors. In some cases, the investigating agency found that rides that were billed did not occur. Lyft’s real time reporting of its services could cut down or potentially eliminate this type of fraud.
Aside from providing transportation services to patients, Lyft also recently partnered with HHS to promote open enrollment in the public health insurance exchanges through outreach to its drivers around the country. Last week, Lyft and Uber announced support for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative by expanding their ride services to cancer patients with transportation issues. The companies are reaching out to patients in low income communities with credits and free rides.
Analysis: Lack of reliable transportation is a major reason patients miss medical appointments. A Community Transportation Association study found that 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation issues.
Other startups are seeing the opportunities in transportation: RoundTrip is a startup out of Philadelphia that created a web portal and mobile app so that care coordinators at health care facilities can connect patients in need of nonemergency transportation to medical appointments. Unlike the ridesharing and ride-hailing companies, RoundTrip focuses on serving health care facilities. Its main clients are care managers and social workers who arrange transport typically by ambulance, wheelchair van, or other medical transportation vehicle. The revenue model is based on charging a small fee for every completed ride. The company estimates that medical transportation companies operate at about 35 percent efficiency, and their model increases efficiency by making better use of these vehicles.
Community Transportation Association, “Medicaid Non-emergency Medical Transportation (NeMT) saves lives and money”
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