As a key social determinant of health, transportation is a crucial service that people rely on to get themselves to desired locations. Services could include not only a private vehicle but public transportation and networking services such as Uber and Lyft. Non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) is a unique Medicaid benefit that offers transportation to and from health care appointments and services. As of 2019, Medicaid provides transportation services to over 7 million enrollees, many of which are older adults.
The need for reliable NEMT services is elevated for older adults. Some of these factors may include a decline in ability to drive, inability to access their own forms of transportation (or someone to drive them), the desire to minimize isolation and its impact on mental health, and the need to attend non-emergent medical appointments. Others can be related to distance, such as the need to travel from rural to urban locations for services and support.
The Financial Inaccessibility of Individual Transportation
Many older adults rely on Social Security, as fewer and fewer employers offer pensions to support retirees. While an important economic support for older adults, often this is not enough to cover necessities like food and shelter, not even thinking about transportation. Low-income older adults may be eligible for and can rely on NEMT through their state Medicaid program to transport them to their health care appointments. If NEMT services are not regularly available, this puts low-income individuals into the position of missing necessary medical appointments. This negatively impacts these individuals and their quality of life, further highlighting the importance of reliable, accessible NEMT services.
Another contributing factor to why older adults cannot afford methods of transportation is their location in relation to health centers. Many older adults may live in rural areas, which presents a unique transportation barrier to accessing medical care. These areas are underserved by public transit and residents must travel considerable distances to access health-related services. This can be costly to handle privately, especially when treating a chronic illness. NEMT services provide a reliable, cost-effective form of transportation, regardless of pick-up location. This also depends on an NEMT business providing rural support, which we have strongly suggested in the past.
The Impact of Mental Health on Physical Well-Being
As individuals age, it is common to experience an inability to operate their own vehicle as their physical and/or cognitive health declines. While some individuals may need to choose to move to an assisted living facility, many older adults choose to remain at home, which introduces the need to find transportation. If reliable NEMT services are unavailable, older adults are often left isolated.
The drawbacks of isolation and loneliness on older adults can be detrimental and often lead to more serious health issues. Socialization is critical for maintaining mental health, especially for those who live alone. If NEMT services are reliable and accessible, the mental health of older adults will be less at risk, which leads to better health outcomes overall.
Accessing Transportation for Recurring Medical Treatment
Access to NEMT services for recurring medical appointments, such as dialysis, cancer treatments, adult day programs, substance abuse disorders/behavioral health care, and physical therapy or rehabilitation, is essential for the well-being and physical health of older adults. The ability to access these types of non-emergent medical services regularly can be the difference between an older adult being able to age in their own home surrounded by a familiar community and needing to move to access more assistive care.
Not only do older adults require these treatments to continue a happy, healthy life, but also if they are unable to access the proper transportation to travel to them, they may face greater medical consequences resulting in hospitalizations. Reliable NEMT services allow older adults to access the health care that they require, which simultaneously prevents the need for more serious medical intervention. For example, dialysis treatments for end-stage renal disease may require three roundtrips each week. If older adults miss their dialysis treatments due to a lack of reliable transportation, this leads not only to negative health outcomes but may even result in a lower life expectancy
If you are interested in learning more about how older adults benefit from reliable NEMT services, or how your business can better serve an aging population, contact Momentm today to speak with a team member who understands the unique needs of NEMT.