in control

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.

Last year, California-based Nuro, a self-driving car tech company, launched three pilots in Houston. Courtesy of Nuro

Houston — with its sprawl and winding roads broken up across various neighborhoods — is particularly challenging when it comes to self-driving car navigation. And that's exactly why Nuro, a California-based tech startup that's raised over $1 billion in funding, decided to focus on the Bayou City for its autonomous vehicle delivery pilot programs.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, tells InnovationMap. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Last year alone, Nuro launched three pilots in six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights. The first of which was a partnership with Kroger in March, followed by the announcement of autonomous pizza delivery from Domino's in June. Last month, Nuro announced its latest delivery partner was Walmart.

Lawal explains Houston's appeal to Nuro in a few ways, but the challenging landscape is key. Nuro cars are learning from the narrow, tree-laden streets of West University or the pedestrian-heavy, ditch-lined paths in the Heights.

"There's a ton for us to learn, but it's a great microcosm of the United States in a number of different ways," he says.

In addition to its diversity within its street types, Houston, named the most diverse city in the country, represents an ideal customer base, says Lawal, a Houston native himself. Houstonians are open minded about new experiences.

"If you think and look across Houston, the average commute is over 60 minutes for people to get back and forth," Lawal tells InnovationMap. "As we surveyed across major cities we were interested in, Houston stood out as a place where customers said they don't want go to the grocery store if they don't have to or get in their cars again to pick up their pizza."

The third reason Houston was a great market for Nuro is the amount of regulatory support the state of Texas has — Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the Texas Connected and Autonomous Vehicle task force a year ago — as well as the support at the city level.

"It's been a welcoming environment from the mayor's office down for us to be here," Lawal says.

Since entering the Houston market, Nuro's local operations have grown to over 100 employees. The company still has software operations out of California, and some work being done in Arizona, but the Houston is the largest — and growing as the company seeks new partnerships with more stores with a goal of eliminating errands once and for all.

"The way that we think about this is that this new technology and our mission of accelerating robotics for everyday life, is we will bring the people what they want," Lawal says when asked about what types of stores Nuro is looking to partner with.

Eventually, Lawal says, the plan would be to have every errand be delivery optimized with Nuro technology — from big-box stores like Walmart to your local florist.

"Our goal is to have a platform that retailers can connect to in order to provide easy and inexpensive delivery," he says.

Currently, Nuro's technology is still in learning mode. Nuro's fleet of Prius cars with staff onboard are driving up and down Houston streets mapping and taking notes on a daily basis. The company also has bots, called the R2 fleet, that are designed to be unmanned.

These bots are smaller than normal cars and are completely electric. Rather than being designed to protect passengers inside like traditional automobiles, the R2s are designed to be safe for people outside the vehicle.

"It's a new way of thinking about transportation and what our vehicles can and should do," Lawal says.

2020 is the year of these R2 bots, and some areas can expect to see them in action — specifically focused on Domino's pizza delivery — in just a matter of weeks.