Yesterday Uber, a company launched under the premise that every under-employed American’s car could transform into a lucrative side-gig, announced Uber Health. The service is nearly identical to Uber, in that it pairs drivers making $3.37 an hour with people who need a ride. It differs in that those riders are the sick or elderly on their way to see a doctor. In a conceit to “accessibility,” Uber has added a feature allowing patients to print out driver information that would otherwise appear on the app’s screen.
Unlike Apple’s forthcoming in-house health care centers or Amazon’s exploratory health care consortium, Uber’s services won’t benefit its own workers—but Uber Health represents a similar concession from the anti-regulation boy kings that helm these companies: that the American health care and transportation systems are both broken, and they, with their nimble ingenuity, can break and reassemble it. Only one of these things is true.
Uber’s service augments non-emergency transportation, a patchwork of services for people who need assistance to get around, and one of the first Medicaid services to disappear in select states once the GOP granted waivers and cut budgets.
Here in the great metropolis of New York, Access-a-Ride vans are available for the cost of subway fare. But, as they’re managed by the MTA, they are naturally plagued by extreme tardiness and major safety concerns. For patients who need to, say, visit a dialysis center a few times a week or go to physical therapy, other options include hailing a taxi (difficult, depending on where you live and whether or not you use a wheelchair), getting a relative to drive you (relationship- and vehicle-dependent), or calling an actual ambulance, for which you could likely be billed thousands of dollars.
As we live in a country where regular doctor’s visits and/or the ability to recover from an illness are considered a luxury, Uber Health will be useful, in much the same way getting stitches when you’re gushing blood is useful. Americans are already taking ride-hailing services to the emergency room to offset cost; one study found that once Uber comes to an area, EMS calls go down.
Of course, there are solutions besides letting Uber-for-illness take over such essential services. But with waivers eliminating transportation services for the disabled, elderly, and sick already granted to Iowa, Kentucky, and Indiana, it looks like the company will have quite a gaping coverage hole to exploit.