“Grandkids on demand” startup Papa has struck a partnership with health insurance behemoth Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM). A part-owner of the nation’s largest home health provider, Humana is pursuing a multi-faceted strategy to support more home-based services for its beneficiaries, including seniors on Medicare Advantage plans.
As part of the new partnership, Louisville, Kentucky-based Humana is testing out Miami-based Papa’s services in a recently launched pilot program in the Tampa, Florida, market. Through the pilot, a total of 150 of Humana’s Medicare Advantage (MA) members will receive access to Papa’s services in hopes of alleviating loneliness, minimizing isolation and achieving positive health outcomes. Papa is a membership-based platform that connects college students to seniors to provide companionship and general assistance, including transportation services and other task-based help.
“It’s a small, test-and-learn pilot where we’re engaging with [Papa] and matching their service with our Medicare Advantage members,” Caraline Coats, vice president of Humana’s “Bold Goal” initiative and office of population health, told Home Health Care News. “This is another way for us to meet members where they are — in their home — and look at them as individuals instead of their diagnoses.”
Publicly announced in 2015, Humana’s Bold Goal initiative is a pledge to make the communities it serves 20% healthier by 2020. The insurer measures its Bold Goal progress by using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Healthy Days” method, which tracks different aspects of mental and physical health over a 30-day period.
Humana teaming up with Papa is the latest development in a busy year for the startup, launched in late 2017 by co-founders Alfredo Vaamonde and Andrew Parker. Currently, Papa is available in 15 of Florida’s biggest cities, including Miami, Tampa and Orlando. But the startup also has plans to bring its platform — available via phone, mobile app or website — into two new states before the second quarter of 2019.
Its recently raised $2.4 million seed funding round will likely help with that mission.
“Papa is really excited about its partnership with Humana,” Parker, CEO of Papa, told HHCN. “For us, it was really critical to get this incredible anchor partner to prove that Papa isn’t just this cool, niche idea, but something that can really make a difference for older adults. This shows it’s not just us — health plans are agreeing with us.”
Papa has raised at least $3.2 million total since launching, according to startup tracker Crunchbase.
Social isolation, loneliness top priorities for Humana
Being lonely is roughly equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of overall mortality, past research has found. In general, socially isolated older adults are more likely to be sicker, die sooner and have higher health care expenses than seniors who retain social connections.
For these and other reasons, tackling loneliness and social isolation is a priority for Humana.
“In research with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, their data shows that, of all the social determinants of health, social isolation and loneliness correlate to having the biggest impact,” Coats said. “That is why we are focused on working with different companies, different organizations and different resources to address those [determinants].”
Humana identified the members likeliest to benefit from the Papa pilot — officially launched on Oct. 22 — by using predicative modeling tools, Coats said. The insurer plans to measure the pilot’s success by using a combination of the Healthy Days methods and UCLA’s three-question loneliness scale.
While the pilot is starting out small, it could have broader implications if the results are encouraging.
“It’s too early to know, but with any test-and-learn pilot, if there are positive results … then we would look to scale that,” Coats said. “But we see a strong positive association between loneliness and unhealthy days.”
Humana zeroes in on the home
Much has been made about Humana’s overarching desire to build a presence in the home care setting.
Earlier this year, the insurer finalized its deal to acquire Kindred at Home, the largest home health company in the United States. On that transaction, Humana partnered with private equity firms TPG Capital and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. Humana and the same two PE firms also acquired hospice provider Curo Health Services, a move that has triggered concern for some.
“You have to go where the member or the patient is,” Humana Chief Medical Officer Roy A. Beveridge previously told HHCN. “Patients spend 98% to 99% of their time in their homes, so for us to believe that we can help someone in their health and not be where they are most of the time doesn’t make any sense.”
Exploring partnership opportunities with Papa is a part of that strategy, as is working with more traditional home care agencies that provide companionship services, a staple of the industry. That’s especially true when it comes to Medicare Advantage plans, after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it would expand supplemental benefits in 2019 to allow for certain non-skilled home-based care services.
Humana’s pilot with Papa is not in any way tied to those additional MA opportunities, however.
Additionally, home care agencies should not feel slighted over Humana’s partnership with the grandkids on demand startup, Coats said. Humana is looking for multiple ways to impact member health in the home setting, so there is still plenty of room for home care collaborations moving forward.
“I wouldn’t look at this as a one-size-fits-all solution for any social determinant of health,” Coats said. “There isn’t one answer. We just see Papa as a potentially an innovative company that can offer companionship in a different way.”
Papa will look to capitalize on the opportunity, Parker said, adding that the startup plans to announce additional partnerships shortly after the new year. So far, the company has few direct competitors, though a new startup — Mon Ami — recently launched providing strikingly similar services throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Among older people who report feeling left out, isolated or lacking companionship, the ability to perform daily activities like bathing, grooming and preparing meals has been shown to decline substantially relative to people who report none of those feelings, past research has found.
“I think we’ve kind of landed on a unique way to solve this massive problem,” Parker said. “I’m sure there will be others to follow.”
Written by Robert Holly