Blue Cross Blue Shield will offer customers free Lyft rides

NEW YORK —  Blue Cross Blue Shield wants you to make it to your doctor’s appointments — so much that it’s willing to pay for your Lyft.

The health care provider announced Wednesday that it will offer free Lyft rides to its plan holders who lack reliable transportation. They intend to roll the program out across the U.S. in both metropolitan and rural markets starting in August or September.

“The model couples BCBS technology with Lyft’s convenient ride-share services to reduce the number of missed appointments for non-emergency medical care in areas without optimal transportation alternatives servicing health care facilities,” BCBS said in a statement.

The program will initially be available only to patients who have a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan through their employer. But it could be expanded to include those who obtain plans through Medicare Advantage or the Affordable Care Act, BCBS said.

Both BCBS and Lyft declined to share the financial terms of the deal.

How will it work? For starters, you won’t need the Lyft app.

“We’re trying to remove the barrier for patients to need to have a smart phone,” said Gyre Renwick, Lyft’s head of healthcare partnerships.

Instead, it all will happen through your doctor. If you’re eligible, have Blue Cross Blue Shield and need a ride, your doctor’s office will see that transportation is a covered benefit when they book your appointment. It can then schedule a Lyft ride in either direction. Patients can also ask their doctor’s office to set them up with a Lyft ride on demand.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is still determining eligibility requirements, but said it has software that will automatically identify which customers live in “transportation deserts.”

Personal patient data will be protected, according to both Lyft and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“We’re really only asking for first name, last name and pickup and drop-off location,” Renwick said.

It’s the first time that Lyft has executed an arrangement like this with a commercial insurer. And BCBS is no small fish; the health care provider has 106 million members across 36 affiliated companies.

Both Lyft and competitor Uber have been eying opportunities in the world of health care for some time now.

In January 2016, Lyft launched a pilot program that allowed the National Medtrans Network, which arranges non-emergency rides to doctor’s appointments, to book rides for New York City Medicaid patients.

And in September 2016, Uber partnered with startup Circulation, a medical transportation platform that uses its API.

It’s a high-need market. About 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year because of transportation issues, according to a 2005 analysis.