The vast majority of America’s older adults hope to remain in their homes and communities as they age. That’s often only possible, however, when they are able to independently leave their homes when needed.
To help them do so, San Diego-based GreatCall, a wholly owned subsidiary of Best Buy (NYSE: BBY), is ramping up its ongoing partnership with San Francisco-based ride-hailing — often referred to as “ride-sharing” — provider Lyft to start senior ride-hailing program GreatCall Rides.
The program connects GreatCall customers to an operator after they press “0” on their Jitterbug smartphones. Instead of going through the standard app on a smartphone, the customers can simply tell the operator where they want to go. Jitterbug phones come with a large interface and are designed to be easy to use for older adults.
The cost of the ride, along with a nominal fee, is added to the customer’s monthly bill. GreatCall users receive $5 off on their first ride, but are otherwise subject to normal Lyft charges.
In 2016, the two companies teamed up for a five-market pilot program. Largely due to the pilot’s sweeping success, GreatCall and Lyft are now taking the program nationwide.
“Historically, if an older adult decided to give up the keys, they had limited resources available to them, and would need to depend on family members or friends,” GreatCall CEO David Inns told Home Health Care News. “When this became too much of a burden, they often then moved into an assisted living facility with on-site resources to reduce the amount of transportation needed, and often provide a shuttle bus or other type of transportation service. GreatCall Rides offers older adults the independence to get where they want to go without, as often as they need, reducing the need to move into assisted living.”
GreatCall, which makes age-in-place technology for seniors, was acquired by electronics retailer Best Buy in August for $800 million.
Lyft is the main competitor of fellow ride-hail company Uber. As of May, Lyft controlled about 35% of the U.S. ride-hailing market, according to company statistics.
Without access to affordable and easily coordinated travel options, older adults risk isolation, a reduced quality of life and negative health outcomes. Past research has found, for example, that individuals age 56 and older who no longer drive make 15% fewer trips to the doctor, 59% fewer trips to shop or eat out and 65% fewer trips to visit friends and family compared to drivers of the same age.
A 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that men in their early 70s who stop driving will need access to transportation alternatives or assistance for an average of six years. Women in the same age group will, on average, need transportation alternatives for 10 years.
GreatCall and Lyft’s 2016 pilot program originally launched across Arizona, California and Florida, plus the individual metro markets of Chicago and Dallas.
Nearly 80% of pilot riders were repeat riders, GreatCall found.
“We’ve received feedback from our customers that participated in the pilot and were pleasantly surprised to see the types of activities that people were using Lyft to get to and from,” Inns said. “Ride-sharing is increasingly used for health care purposes like doctors appointments, but we’ve been thrilled to hear that people are using GreatCall Rides for social events and to visit family members, enabling them to continue doing the things they love.”
GreatCall declined to comment on the number of rides arranged through the pilot program since launching.
“It became clear to us that this is a valuable service, and one that we should broaden and offer to our customers nationwide,” Inns said.
Transportation has become one of the go-to offerings for several home care agencies, complementing the usual mix of companionship and light-housekeeping services. The focus on transportation is likely to continue, especially after the industry and Medicare Advantage (MA) insurers figure out how to fully capitalize on expanded supplemental benefit possibilities in store for 2019.
Indianapolis-based Anthem, Inc. (NYSE: ANTM) is rolling out extended MA benefits packages for many of its affiliated health plans. Besides providing access to an in-home health aide, the new packages for certain Anthem health plans includes a transportation benefit of up to 60 one-way trips per year to health-related or other necessary appointments.
Written by Robert Holly