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Uber is partnering with hospitals, clinics and other health care providers. Photo: Uber

Uber has launched a new service that will allow hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other health care organizations to order and schedule car rides for patients. Uber is not charging a fee to use the service. The health care providers only have to pay for the ride.

Why it matters: Uber sees a huge untapped market in the roughly 4 million people who skip or delay health care visits every year because they don't have reliable transportation. Hospitals, doctors and other providers could be eager to pay for those rides if it means more on-time appointments and fewer no-shows — which translates into more revenue in their pockets.

How it works: Health care providers who use the product, Uber Health, can help patients schedule rides at any time and for future appointments up to 30 days out.

  • Patients don't need the Uber app or a smartphone. They just need a phone number.
  • Providers coordinate everything and can call patients with the details, such as the license plate or type of car that is picking them up.
  • The product is compliant with federal health care privacy laws.
  • Several hospital systems have piloted Uber's service, including MedStar Health, NYU Langone Health, LifeBridge Health and Renown Health.
  • This is only for visits that can be scheduled and does not address the trend of patients hailing Uber rides to avoid costly ambulance bills.

Yes, but: Uber's product isn't the first of its kind. Lyft has partnered with some hospitals and health insurers, and state Medicaid programs also cover non-emergency transportation. But the service still could help poor people and seniors who don't have the means to see their doctor or nurse.

  • "This is something we’ve been looking at for a couple years now," said Chris Weber, the head of Uber Health.

The new venture is also about big business. Uber gets consistent revenue from health care organizations that book rides, and this is similar to the company's Uber Central app that lets businesses pay for rides as a way to get customers in the door.

Hospitals and other companies won't mind spending $20 or even a couple hundred dollars getting patients to and from appointments if it means those organizations can bill the much higher payments from Medicare, Medicaid or the patient's commercial insurer for the actual visit.

  • "They’re getting another body in that bed," Weber said.

Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily health care newsletter, Vitals. 

Go deeper

House cancels Thursday session as FBI, Homeland Security warn of threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says an unidentified group of extremists discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

32 mins ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).