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Lyft and the University of Southern California are getting $1 million from insurance giant UnitedHealth to help seniors more easily access the transportation they need.
As part of the grant, USC's researchers will study whether taking rides can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation in seniors and improve their health by helping them get to medical appointments on time.
The funds will be used for a pilot program run by the AARP Foundation in Los Angeles. It will provide free Lyft rides to a group of USC Keck Medical Center patients over 60 who have missed at least 2 medical appointments within the past year and have an upcoming appointment on the books. The rides will be available for 3 months.
These patients will also receive a Fitbit activity tracker, and are encouraged to log their daily activities. Additional pilots are scheduled for Chicago and Atlanta in 2018.
Studies have found that transportation gaps result in many low-income seniors missing or delaying their doctor's visits, which is associated with worse health outcomes. It's also an expensive problem for insurance companies, as these patients are more likely to end up in the emergency room.
For Lyft, the business case is clear as it looks to engage new demographics, including seniors, and pick up new sources of revenue in the $6 billion non-emergency medical transportation market. Beyond this specific study, the company is working with a mix of commercial and government insurers will typically foot the bill.
"We want to study whether we can reduce these no-show rates and provide a better experience for elder populations," said Lyft's Dan Trigub, who works on health care solutions.
Lyft is providing training on how to use the app and it allows a phone-based service for those who lack a smartphone. In that case, the car typically arrives within 30 minutes.
Trigub said drivers will be be aware that they need to pickup riders with service animals. That's an issue that got Uber into legal trouble back in 2015.
He also said that there's no additional cost for caregivers to join the ride.
Ultimately, he said, "we want to be the premier solution for elder, low-income and underserved populations."
Uber has also made steps into the health and medical market. It ran its own pilot program in 2015 to deliver flu shot packages to workplaces and homes.