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.

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Building Houston

 
 

From opioid research to plastics recycling, here are three research projects to watch out for in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research projects, we look into studies on robotics advancing stroke patient rehabilitation, the future of opioid-free surgery, and a breakthrough in recycling plastics.

The University of Houston's research on enhancing stroke rehabilitation

A clinical trial from a team at UH found that stroke survivors gained clinically significant arm movement and control by using an external robotic device powered by the patients' own brains. Image via UH.edu

A researcher at the University of Houston has seen positive results on using his robotics on stroke survivors for rehabilitation. Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, director of UH's Non-Invasive Brain Machine Interface Systems Laboratory, recently published the results of the clinical trial in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

The testing proved that most patients retained the benefits for at least two months after the therapy sessions ended, according to a press release from UH, and suggested even more potential in the long term. The study equipped stroke survivors who have limited movement in one arm with a computer program that captures brain activity to determine the subject's intentions and then works with a robotic device affixed to the affected arm, to move in response to those intentions.

"This is a novel way to measure what is going on in the brain in response to therapeutic intervention," says Dr. Gerard Francisco, professor and chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and co-principal investigator, in the release.

"This study suggested that certain types of intervention, in this case using the upper robot, can trigger certain parts of brain to develop the intention to move," he continues. "In the future, this means we can augment existing therapy programs by paying more attention to the importance of engaging certain parts of the brain that can magnify the response to therapy."

The trial was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and Mission Connect, part of the TIRR Foundation. Contreras-Vidal is working on a longer term project with a National Science Foundation grant in order to design a low-cost system that would allow people to continue the treatments at home.

"If we are able to send them home with a device, they can use it for life," he says in the release.

Baylor College of Medicine's work toward opioid-free surgery

A local doctor is focused on opioid-free options. Photo via Getty Images

In light of a national opioid crisis and more and more data demonstrating the negative effects of the drugs, a Baylor College of Medicine orthopedic surgeon has been working to offer opioid-free surgery recovery to his patients.

"Thanks to a number of refinements, we are now able to perform hip and knee replacements, ranging from straightforward to very complex cases, without patients requiring a single opioid pill," says Dr. Mohamad Halawi, associate professor and chief quality officer in the Joseph Barnhart Department of Orthopedic Surgery, in a press release.

"Pain is one of patients' greatest fears when undergoing surgery, understandably so," Halawi continues. "Today, most patients wake up from surgery very comfortable. Gone are the days of trying to catch up with severe pain. It was a vicious cycle with patients paying the price in terms of longer hospitalization, slower recovery and myriad adverse events."

Halawi explains that his work focuses on preventative measures ahead of pain occurring as well as cutting out opioids before surgery.

"Opioid-free surgery is the way of the future, and it has become a standard of care in my practice," he says. "The ability to provide safer and faster recovery to all patients regardless of their surgical complexity is gratifying. I want to make sure that pain is one less thing for patients to worry about during their recovery."

Rice University's breakthrough on recycling plastics

A team of scientists have found a use for a material that comes out of plastics recycling.

Houston scientists has found a new use for an otherwise useless byproduct that comes from recycling plastics. Rice University chemist James Tour has discovered that turbostratic graphene flakes can be produced from pyrolyzed plastic ash, and those flakes can then be added to other substances like films of polyvinyl alcohol that better resist water in packaging and cement paste and concrete, as well as strengthen the material.

"This work enhances the circular economy for plastics," Tour says in a press release. "So much plastic waste is subject to pyrolysis in an effort to convert it back to monomers and oils. The monomers are used in repolymerization to make new plastics, and the oils are used in a variety of other applications. But there is always a remaining 10% to 20% ash that's valueless and is generally sent to landfills.

Tour's research has appeared in the journal Carbon. The co-authors of the study include Rice graduate students Jacob Beckham, Weiyin Chen and Prabhas Hundi and postdoctoral researcher Duy Xuan Luong, and Shivaranjan Raghuraman and Rouzbeh Shahsavari of C-Crete Technologies. The National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Department of Energy supported the research.

"Recyclers do not turn large profits due to cheap oil prices, so only about 15% of all plastic gets recycled," said Rice graduate student Kevin Wyss, lead author of the study. "I wanted to combat both of these problems."

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