Ambulance cuts pave way for new ride providers in skilled nursing

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More companies, including Ford, are moving into non-emergency medical transportion
More companies, including Ford, are moving into non-emergency medical transportion

With mounting financial pressure driving some private ambulance companies out of business, more ride-hailing operators are stepping into the vacuum and providing non-emergency transportation to and from nursing homes.

A convergence of private and alternative services has arisen as ambulance operators brace for a 13% cut to one of their bread-and-butter services: non-emergency dialysis transport. Some services have already stopped providing those type of rides to beneficiaries in advance of an Oct. 1 Medicare rate cut.

That leaves more room for the ride-hailing and start-up companies.

“A few of our CEOs are talking with rideshare services in their area to see if they can build relationships,” said Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, which represents about two dozen health plans, to Bloomberg Law. “I think there is growth potential for those transportation services.”

This week, Ford publicly unveiled its non-emergency medical transportation business GoRide, which it piloted using 15 specially equipped vans to transport patients to more than 200 healthcare facilities in the Detroit area.

GoRide offers “bedside-to-bedside” service from houses and nursing homes to medical facilities. The vans are wheelchair-accessible.

Ford says it is looking to “raise the bar” with its professionally trained drivers and bookings available up to 30 days in advance. The company says it is in talks with other healthcare providers and plans to have 60 vans operating in the Detroit area by 2019.

Ford says programs like GoRide can reduce hospital readmission rates, encourage preventative healthcare and prevent missed medical appointments.

Among the features it's touting to potential partners: data analytics that can help stakeholders like hospitals and payers deliver on their goals.

Transportation services provided by existing ride-hailing platforms Uber and Lyft also are expected to increase over the next several years as Medicare changes its rules for managed care beneficiaries.

Senior living companies, including Brookdale, already are encouraging residents to use Lyft and Uber for some trips. But the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' revised rules regarding supplemental benefits in Medicare managed care plans may give skilled nursing communities and their residents a new resource to pay for non-emergency rides.

“This new flexibility will allow us to partner even more dynamically with MA plans, to not just help seniors suffering from chronic health conditions get to their health appointments, but to more broadly leverage our platform to remove transportation barriers, and encourage healthy and active living,” Lyft director of federal government relations Lauren Belive told Bloomberg.

Uber Health allows healthcare professionals to order rides for patients on a HIPAA-compliant platform.

Circulation, a healthcare transportation exchange, has offered services to enrollees of MA plans in parts Texas, Idaho, Utah, and Massachusetts.

When it launched a partnership with Uber in 2016 to test non-emergency medical transportation, Circulation co-founder John Brownstein, Ph.D., told McKnight's Senior Living the service could expand to settings such as skilled nursing, independent living and assisted living.

Medicare Advantage plan beneficiaries now book their own transportation through a digital platform, with a website that indicates member eligibility and sends rides quickly.