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Nonemergency medical transportation benefits, often using smartphone application–based ridesharing services, are increasingly being offered as part of population health management programs. However, the impact of these programs on health care use and costs remains understudied. We conducted a mixed-methods evaluation of a nonemergency medical transportation benefit offered to members of a Medicare accountable care organization (ACO) within a large academic health system, the UNC Health Alliance ACO. Participation in the transportation program was associated with a greater number of per person per year outpatient visits (9.2) and higher outpatient spending ($4,420) than in a comparison group. However, there was no difference in inpatient admissions or emergency department visits, and the program was not cost saving. Qualitative analyses revealed that participants were highly satisfied with the program, reporting that it eased financial burdens and made them feel safer, more empowered, and better able to take control of their health. These findings suggest that although transportation programs are commonly introduced as ways to contain health care spending, it may be better to think of them as programs to improve health care access for people facing difficult circumstances.
© 2022 Project HOPE—The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.
This study was supported by the Commonwealth Fund (Grant No. 20192383), a national, private foundation based in New York City that supports independent research on health care issues and makes grants to improve health care practice and policy. The views presented here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Commonwealth Fund, its directors, officers, or staff. Seth Berkowitz, Katharine Ricks, and Darren DeWalt received funding from this grant. Jingyan Wang and Ram Rimal were employees of the health care system whose data were studied in this project.