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Uber Health sees growing demand for medical rides and deliveries

Uber Health Global Head Caitlin Donovan joins Yahoo Finance’s Anjalee Khemlani live from the HLTH 2022 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, to discuss tech’s role in health care, how Uber Health is trying to leverage transportation to drive health care accessibility, growing demand for medical services, and the outlook for growth.

Video transcript

[AUDIO LOGO]

- Our Anjalee Khemlani talked to the Uber Health global head-- that's Caitlin Donovan-- at that conference. And we got to hear all the ways Uber Health is trying to leverage transportation to drive health care accessibility.

CAITLIN DONOVAN: You might think of Uber as that app in your pocket on your smartphone, but Uber Health is actually a little bit different. We're that provider-facing tools so that we can address the needs of the most vulnerable population that might not know how to, want to, or can't navigate a system on their own. So coming out of the pandemic, where we saw an increasing need for these services, we've spent a lot of time thinking about how to make what we're doing scalable because our impact has been so great at the individual community level.

And so we really spend a lot of time with health plans across Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and now employer-sponsored plans, thinking about how to structure benefit designs that drive to right behaviors and outcomes of their underlying patient populations.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: So in a nutshell, employer-sponsored plans can now add Uber rides to the hospital, or to the doctor's office?

CAITLIN DONOVAN: That's exactly right. The way to think about it is these benefits have been around for a long time. For Medicaid, transportation's been a covered benefit since 1966. Medicare Advantage plans, more than 50% now cover transportation.

And we started getting a lot of inbound requests for employers, which at first surprised me. I thought of employee populations as those that were stable in their job with access to care. But the data proves to be a little bit more nuanced, right, with a recent study of 5.1 million commercial members found that 27% lived at 200% of the poverty line or below, use preventative services 50% less, and saw four times more preventable admissions. To me, that speaks to those same underlying social determinants of health issues and a real problem that we need to proactively solve.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Yeah, and you've also added the Meals on Wheels type situation, right? You're helping with meal delivery, medical equipment delivery as well, correct?

CAITLIN DONOVAN: We do have the ability to do both rides and delivery on our platform. And we do have multiple clients using us for both of those things. And we're thinking about how to choose the right partners to be able to do that at scale because there's such a high degree of overlap in need between those that need a ride and those that need something delivered, typically food prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. But to your point, certainly DME and things like that as well.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: What about nurses and clinical staff? I know that we think about getting to work or commuter situations in really heavily populated areas, but I noticed that there was a nurse taking an Uber every day outside my apartment. And then I wondered, is that a service you're offering?

CAITLIN DONOVAN: Anjalee, I'm so glad that you saw us in action. Yes, it absolutely is. If you think about our mission, it's how do we use the core competencies, consumer tech available to allow care to be delivered in the home? And that's logistically complicated, both for the patient and for the caregivers that serve the patient.

Think about the caregiver shortage that we have. And that's amplified by a nurse not being able to see a patient because they're driving around looking for parking. So a lot of nursing companies actually use Uber to transport their caregivers.

In an urban area, you don't have to pay for parking. You don't have to pay for mileage reimbursement. You pay for the Uber instead. And you have the added benefit of knowing where your nurse is so when the patient calls and says, where's Mrs. Smith, you know exactly the answer. We've anecdotally heard from our customers that you can see about an extra patient a day, which helps not only serve the patients, but really makes a workforce where we have a shortage more productive as well.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Uber Health is in some ways an extension of the origins of Uber, which is just having a ride from point A to point B. Expanding with the plans in mind, with the payers in mind, that's, obviously, where you'll get a really good deal of business coming from. What else or what other areas can you expand in?

CAITLIN DONOVAN: Yeah, the way that I think about that is building, to your point, on the great work that the Uber Consumer Tech Team did, later what the Uber Health Team did, to prove that product market fit, to know that we provide a better experience for patient, and to your point, cost savings for providers. We now think about how to make that scalable for health plans by thinking about the overlapping needs of patients so that we can take administrative cost out of the system. And then, candidly, structuring benefits in a way that work for all because just having the benefit and having the tool we found isn't enough.

I want to give an example of where something actually went wrong. I'm sure that you've been talking with a lot of folks about how value-based care can solve all because it aligns incentives.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: We don't use that term.

CAITLIN DONOVAN: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And we found that that's not the case, right, because there's administrative burdens, there's regulations that prevent that financial mechanism from working the way it's intended. So to give a really concrete example, we were contracted with a care coordinator in a value-based contract. They had full risk on this patient. So they were financially motivated to do the right thing. And we're in health care so hopefully want to do the right thing anyway.

And this patient had an acute event, needed to go to see their doctor. It was a dual-eligible patient, which meant they were on both Medicaid and Medicare. Because they needed to cross state lines, Medicaid would not pay for a ride. Because this had happened so frequently, they'd exhausted their Medicare benefits. So Medicare wouldn't pay for the ride.

And our customer called us and said, what should I do? And we said, well, that's why you're contracted with Uber Health. You anticipated that this would happen. This is the right thing to do for the patient. And, by the way, you're financially set up to do so based on the contract you had with the payer. And they said, oh, you know what? I can't do it because the patient has exhausted their benefit. I think the payer will get mad.

So what happened was the patient had an acute event. They called an ambulance. So the transportation cost that would have been $40 was now $1,000. And they had an inpatient stay, which cost the system thousands more dollars.

And so we spend a lot of time thinking about yes, how to physically move the patient from point A to point B, but also how to preplan for this in your benefit design, how you administer it to avoid those situations and make it much easier to navigate the ecosystem.