Health & Medicine

Some Sacramento-area patients are getting free Lyft rides to doctor appointments, lab visits

Blue Shield of California launched this week a pilot program that will allow more than 1,300 Sacramento-area residents to get free Lyft rides to their primary care appointments, to X-ray or lab visits, and even to pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy.

“Transportation is a barrier for millions of Americans and thousands of folks in Sacramento who can’t get to their labs, their X-rays, their doctor’s office,” said Peter Long, senior vice president of healthcare and community health transformation at Blue Shield of California. “We think we should immediately see increases in access to care.”

The insurer is undertaking the trial program with Blue Shield members whose primary care doctors practice at Associated Family Physicians in South Sacramento and Galt. There, Blue Shield will be studying whether members in its commercial plans adopt the service. At the same time, the company is launching a similar service in Southern California, looking at usage by members who have Medi-Cal plans. In the program, Blue Shield takes care of paying the Lyft driver. The trial is scheduled to run for 12 months.

Dr. David Kosh, a doctor with Associated Family Physicians, said he welcomes the opportunity for his patients to try out the new service, known as RideQ.

“It’s the kind of thing that, when you start doing it, you find out that people had troubles before, and now all of a sudden, they’re going to be coming up and saying, ‘Wow! ... I could get to the drugstore and get my pills where I couldn’t get them before,’ ” Kosh said. “Time will tell how many patients will benefit. ... Usually, the difficulties with access are hidden.”

RideQ is part of a larger initiative at Blue Shield, Long said. The insurer has been working for some time now on designing the health care model of the future, and that new model calls for blowing up many of the old ways of doing business, said Blue Shield CEO Paul Markovich, in a May 2019 interview with The Bee. The goals, Markovich said, include identifying and obliterating the non-medical barriers that keep people from seeing a doctor and that prevent doctors from connecting with their patients.

Long explained: “The whole model is designed to make sure people get access to the health care that they need on terms that they can afford and in ways that support the doctor to be the best practitioners of medicine. ... It’s part of a larger vision at Blue Shield to increase people’s access to health care and make the health care system work better for people.”

As the company assesses RideQ, Long said, they will be reviewing whether patients show improvement in their health outcomes and their satisfaction levels, whether they are seeing the costs of their health care drop and whether their physicians report increased job satisfaction.

Kosh said: “It’s really exciting to be working with an organization that is worried about other things besides the bottom line. They’re actually willing to spend money to make things easier and better for patients.”

Blue Shield also is monitoring the trials to identify any kinks or drawbacks to their success, Long said; in the case of RideQ, they have tried to make it as easy as possible for customers to request a Lyft driver. The company also allows patients to bring along a caregiver to help them with walkers and other aspects of their medical care, Long said.

“One of the things we think about in these pilots is whether it’s creating too much complexity,” he said. “If it creates a snowflake, then we can’t actually replicate it, so we’re very conscious of having things like a great interface for the patient. We’re going to do the work behind the scenes.”

Long said that patients who qualify for the RideQ pilot will get an email inviting them to sign up. If it proves successful in improving access for hundreds of Sacramento-area residents, Long said, the company could start expanding it elsewhere.

“What we really want to do is look at those things that influence (Blue Shield members’) health and well-being every day and how do we as a health plan really make a constructive contribution to affecting those things,” Long said. “There’s more to come on that, but this is our down payment on that.”

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.