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Health insurance tech startup taps Texas for its launch due to its large uninsured population

California-based Sidecar Health has rolled out its health insurance tech services in Texas. Images via sidecarhealth.com

The health insurance situation in Texas is anemic.

Last year, 17.7 percent of Texans lacked health insurance, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's the highest rate of uninsured residents among all of the states.

The problem is even more acute in the Houston metro area. In 2018, nearly 1 in 5 residents of the region (18.6 percent) had no health insurance, the Census Bureau says. That's the highest rate of uninsured residents among the country's 25 most populous metro areas.

If you do the math, that translates into more than 5 million residents of Texas, including more than 1.3 million in the Houston area, who have no health-insurance safety net. A startup called Sidecar Health is setting out to reduce those numbers.

Texas recently became the first market for Sidecar Health's insurance plans, which it promotes as being "personalized" and "affordable." By the end of this year, the El Segundo, California-based company hopes to enroll at least 5,000 Texans.

Just as with subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, a consumer can sign up for or cancel their Sidecar Health plan at any time. A member can lock in their Sidecar Health rate for three years.

Technically, Sidecar Health isn't an insurance company. Rather, it manages the insurance plans that it sells.

"Sidecar Health is different from traditional insurance in that we pay a fixed amount for any medically necessary service or prescription drug that you buy," the company explains on its website. "That means if your provider charges more than that fixed amount, you pay the difference. And if your provider charges less, you keep the difference."

Through Sidecar Health, a consumer can visit any healthcare provider, healthcare facility, or pharmacy they choose, as long as self-paying patients with credit cards or debit cards are accepted. This setup allows "complete transparency and control over healthcare costs," says Patrick Quigley, the startup's CEO.

"We make this possible by enabling our members to pay for care when they get it using the Sidecar Health payment card. Because doctors get paid immediately, they offer huge discounts. On average, it is 33 percent or more cheaper than what they charge big insurance companies," Quigley tells InnovationMap. "And because our members are doing the buying by swiping the card, they know what things cost. So you get true transparency and affordability — the way health insurance should be."

Through the Sidecar Health app, a member can see how much healthcare providers in their area charge, enabling them to compare prices.

"Our approach results in a truly affordable option for the millions of people left behind by the traditional model — those who don't qualify for a government subsidy but can't afford the cost of traditional plans," Quigley says in a release.

Sidecar Health is operating throughout Texas without any employees or offices in the state. The company sells its product directly through its website. On the website, consumers can educate themselves on available insurance plans before signing up online. Its Texas insurance plans are underwritten by Eatontown, New Jersey-based United States Fire Insurance Co., part of insurance conglomerate Crum & Forster.

Since its founding in 2018, Sidecar Health has raised $18 million in funding, led by San Francisco-based GreatPoint Ventures and Los Angeles-based Morpheus Ventures.

The startup's offering "is a great example of taking an otherwise complex process and making it simple, which is why Sidecar Health is such a game changer in health insurance," says Joseph Miller, managing partner of Morpheus Ventures.

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Building Houston

 
 

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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