What medical transportation options exist for seniors on Medicare?

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Seniors on Medicare that face mobility issues and live on a limited or fixed income have a number of options at their disposal for being transported to and from important appointments, including doctor visits.

You may wonder, however, whether Medicare actually covers the cost of these transportation options — and what alternatives are at seniors’ disposal in the event a particular service is not paid for under their insurance plan. 

It’s worth noting that non-emergency transportation is usually not covered by standard Medicare plans, although a number of Medicare Part C plans (also known as “Medicare Advantage”) will.

Emergency transportation in a life-support ambulance is covered across the board on Medicare — but this is generally considered to cover life or limb issues or a matter where going to the hospital in a vehicle like a family member’s car would increase any medical risks the senior is facing. Deductibles may also apply in emergency situations, depending on the senior’s exact Medicare plan.  

By contrast, using an ambulance in non-urgent situations is only covered if a doctor has provided a written statement identifying it as medically necessary. And when an ambulance company has reason to believe the ride won’t be covered by insurance, they will give the senior a document called an advance beneficiary notice, or ABN, that says so. 

Medicaid can cover a patient’s transport expenses in a wider array of circumstances, such as: 

  • If the person has a low income.
  • If they can’t drive a car, don’t have a driver’s license, or face some other impediment to private, self-arranged transportation. 
  • If they are impacted by a disability. 

Our general advice is to urge seniors and their families to double check the benefits provided by their Medicare (or Medicaid) plans before making a decision about transportation.

What about Uber?

Uber, specifically through its Uber Health program, and Lyft do help many people in Memphis get where they need to go. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that ride fares to wellness appointments can get to $30 or higher in “peak” or busy periods where there is significant demand and few drivers on the road – and this can be extremely prohibitive for seniors on fixed incomes. There is also no guarantee that an Uber driver will be able to assist a mobility challenged senior in and out of their house or the doctor’s office – and generally, they won’t have the same driver to drop them off and pick them up from an appointment.  

Rideshare services have started offering free rides for appointments like COVID-19 vaccines. But this still depends on availability – and many of us are familiar with how hard it can be to find an Uber or Lyft car when we need it in Memphis. 

How Rides to Wellness Can Help

Our service is a free alternative. Rides to Wellness is an initiative of 901RideChoice. As such, we continue to work with partners, like Medhaul, which enables access to safe, quality, and inclusive transportation. Financial support from the City of Memphis also makes our program possible and allows us to serve populations in need.  

Our transport service works closely with organizations like Memphis Crisis Center, the Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse program, the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, and PrimeCare Transport Services, to do what we do and reach the groups of adults that need us the most. And of course, we’re backed by MATA, offering a highly personalized, straightforward alternative to their public transportation services. 

We’re not an app, but a number – and one that’s super easy to remember. By calling 901-RIDE-901, a rider or their loved one can quickly and easily arrange a ride to and from a medical appointment from a dedicated driver, one who can even help with mobility issues. There’s currently no limit to the number of times a rider can use our service. 

If you’d like to know more about how to schedule, we have an easy, handy four-step guide at this link here

The Bottom Line: In Memphis, a single phone call is able to help seniors secure a free ride with no downloads or upfront costs involved. This is especially important to bear in mind as an alternative to navigating whether or not a transport option is covered by Medicare.  

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