Mississippians in counties with Uber services can request free rides to their county health department appointments starting next month.
As the state’s health care crisis persists and Mississippians may increasingly rely on county health departments for care, the new program is aimed at making transportation more accessible for rural Mississippians, and in turn, decreasing “no shows” at health department appointments.
The one-year emergency contract, which Mississippi Today obtained through a public records request, says the Mississippi State Health Department will pay Uber Health up to $1 million for non-emergency services transporting patients to their health department appointments, to the pharmacy if needed and then returning them home. Though the contract is retroactively effective to September, rides will start being offered in November.
The rider will not be charged, and the health department will schedule transportation. It’s not clear exactly how those rides will be scheduled, and Mississippi Department of Health officials couldn’t provide details by press time and did not make anyone available for an interview about the initiative.
Agency officials also said the funds were from a federal grant but did not specify which one.
Uber’s responsibilities include assessing its coverage area within Mississippi, collaborating with the health department’s Office of Health Equity to spread awareness of the initiative and helping create a marketing plan to support driver availability, according to the contract.
“We now officially have a contract in place to provide transportation to and from the county health departments for those who lack transportation resources,” State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney said at the October State Board of Health meeting. “That is a major issue, it’s a major social determinant of health that impacts people getting anywhere they need to go.”
Transportation issues plague rural Mississippi — it’s a major barrier to accessing health care for many. According to one survey, more than 1 in 5 people without transportation missed or skipped a medical appointment in 2022, and people of color and people with low incomes were more affected.
Mississippi county health departments currently experience a 50% no-show rate, according to Edney.
“It’s fairly routine that at the last minute they just can’t get to us,” he said.
However, it’s not yet clear how effective the program will be.
Though it’s meant to ease transportation issues in rural parts of the state, it’s only available in counties with Uber services, which some rural areas don’t have. Also, some studies show that rideshare availability doesn’t have a significant impact on missed health care appointments.
“With Mississippi being a rural state, this initiative will also allow the opportunity for community and economic development by creating jobs,” said Victor D. Sutton, the State Health Departments chief of community health and clinical services, in an email to Mississippi Today.
Edney told Warren County supervisors in the spring that he hopes the program will increase jobs and Uber availability in parts of the state that don’t yet have it.
Uber Health is already being used by more than 3,000 health care customers, according to a statement from January 2022.
Edney said at the October board meeting that the state’s contract with Uber is worded in a way that would allow other states to use it as a template. Health department officials say Mississippi is the first state agency to enter into a contract with the company, to their knowledge.
Uber launched the platform in 2018 to allow health care workers to book rides for patients to and from medical appointments. Since then, it’s expanded to include other services, including prescription delivery.
In recent years, rideshare services have taken interest in expanding to the health care market. Lyft was the first rideshare company to create a non-emergency medical transport program in 2016.
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