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Ride sharing companies like Lyft and Uber Health are building upon their health care operations to take a slice out of the $7 billion non-emergency medical transportation market.  

Uber Health recently appointed its first-ever CMO and announced a health equity-driven partnership with CVS Health. Lyft launched its Lyft Pass for Healthcare, which enables eligible patients, health plan members, and Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries to request a ride to and from their medical appointment or other destination via the Lyft app. It also recently announced a partnership with ChenMed where it will offer an “enhanced level for riders who want light physical assistance door-to-door for their health care appointments.” 

Buck Poropatich joined Lyft to head its health care division as he thought the ride sharing service could help solve some of health care’s major inefficiencies. Poropatich spoke with Health Evolution about the growing interest from health systems in utilizing ride sharing companies for non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services, how the company is addressing patients in underserved areas, and his vision for Lyft Healthcare going forward.  

What has Lyft been able to accomplish over the last few years? 
Poropatich: Lyft Pass for Healthcare is one example of us taking our mobile app and making it specific to, and a high utility in, the health care realm. This is not something you can just repurpose and drop into health care. Lyft Healthcare is typically done through a B2B platform. When we use Lyft, we’re the end user, payer and the scheduler. Those are three different parties. That’s what’s been great for us. From the start, we realized that health care is different. You can’t just repurpose a ride share product and drop it into health care.   

What has made health systems interested in this investment?  
Poropatich: Historically, transportation was looked at as an expense and a mandate … where it’s headed is that people are now seeing it as an investment and a point of differentiation. Transportation is going to be a needed ingredient if you want to succeed in value-based care. The companies that are successful at capitation, the ChenMeds and Iora Healths, they’ve provided transportation for years. They associate transportation with a greater use of preventative and primary care, a lower utilization of emergency and inpatient services, and a timelier way to access medical care among certain health conditions. That’s the big a-ha moment for these organizations. I’d love to see us have the same energy we’ve had in solving the digital divide in solving the transportation divide. It’s still a significant problem. It’s well documented that six million Americans postpone, delay or flat out miss medical care because of a lack of access to transportation. If you’re serious about bending the cost curve, transportation has to be a part of that conversation.  

In terms of population health, what has Lyft done in relation to COVID vaccines?  
Poropatich: If you go back to late 2020 when vaccines were being rolled out, one of our large at-risk providers looked across its patient panel and said, “I’ve got tens of thousands Medicare Advantage patients who have historically had issues with transportation. We have to get them vaccinated.” Within a matter of days, we had 650 people across the country — clinicians, social workers, administrators, receptionists — trained on our web concierge platform. Over a matter of the next several weeks, they got tens of thousands of Medicare Advantage seniors fully vaccinated, both doses. What does that mean for value-based care? Hospitalization costs upwards of $20-30 thousand. Getting the vaccine helps them avoid hospitalization. There you go. That’s the ROI. That’s the outcomes over cost. That’s a worthy investment.    

How does ride sharing close the gap for patients in underserved areas struggling with this particular social determinant? 
Poropatich: Transportation isn’t of itself a social determinant, it’s one of the key elements. It’s a conduit that helps exacerbate challenges around food security, education, or job training. It’s all interrelated. It all depends on access to transportation. Our role is to close the transportation gap in a way that promotes overall health. We want to be that conduit, the connection to their broader set of needs. We have done some food and medical supplies with Army of Angels, AmeriHealth in Tennessee, Second Harvest, Promedica in Ohio, and we’re working with a company that does SDOH analytics called Socially Determined that’s helping us measure the impact and outcomes of our work. 

Q&A: Uber Health’s Caitlyn Donovan

One of the reasons that I came here is Lyft had done a research study with AARP, UnitedHealth and USC Medical School around seniors with chronic conditions getting access to Lyft for three months and then measuring the impact on their living standards and happiness. We discovered that 90 percent wanted to use ride sharing again at the end of those three months. The rides and the ability to be mobile had a positive impact on their quality of life. And 35 percent showed an increase in activity measured by steps. It really leans into this social isolation challenge that we face, even pre pandemic, and there is a lot of value that ride sharing can bring.  

What is your vision for Lyft Healthcare going forward? 
Poropatich: Looking into the future, this is a vibrant and fast-growing segment. Expect us to continue to invest aggressively in new products and new partnerships. We aren’t taking the foot off the pedal. There are a few specific areas we’re looking at. One is with regards to our tech, our mobile tech and our APIs. We want to make things more applicable for the health care use case across the ecosystem. Two is new services. Historically, we provided curb to curb services. What we announced with ChenMed is what we call Lyft Assisted. It’s more of a door-to-door product. There’s a light level of assistance for those who want it from door to door. That’s about 20 percent of the market. It’s been historically inaccessible to us. We’ll continue to expand our service so we can address a larger swath of the population we serve. That demonstrates our commitment to heath care. We’re not just repurposing something off the shelf. We’re building new modes to serve the population.  

Also, the market will grow exponentially. Six years ago, no states within Medicaid recognized Lyft as an eligible provider. We were not a first provider of choice. We were a “rush and recovery” option. Now fast forward to 2022, we’re in 17 states plus DC. We can access 45 million of the 75 million lives within Medicaid as a provider of choice. That expanded the market exponentially because Medicaid is the largest need within NEMT. We have a dedicated team of experts who work with the government, understand our value proposition and the way we can serve the market. The market is also just going to grow organically. I believe we’re in a sea change where historically transportation was a requirement, now it’s an investment and a point of differentiation.  

Having been in this industry for 15 years, there’s a graveyard of U.S. tech companies looking at the health system riddled with warts and inefficiencies and saying they’re going to disrupt the health system. Four years later, there is a quiet press release that they’re backing out of health care. That won’t be us. We’re going to go in and stay focused on what we do and work collaboratively with transportation managers, providers, health plans, state agencies, and the digital health ecosystem. We’ll inject ourselves where we see fit and we’re not going to try and solve all the problems. We’re not naïve. We know health care is hard. It’s super hard. Transportation is hard. That doesn’t mean it needs to be burdensome.    

Homepage photo credit: Lyft