1099s and Tenderness: Papa Health

What happens when you combine eldercare with tech's two hottest trends, 1099 labor and selling data to 3rd parties?

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“My loneliness is killing me.”

- Britney Spears, ‘...Baby One More Time’

Old and Definitely Not in the Way, Promise! (hi Mom)

Globally, there are few cultural traits as commonly prioritized as the reverence of and respect for the aged. No matter what region of what country, it’s a near guarantee one of the reasons the local culture reveres grandpa is because he’s reached age 80. As those around them pass on or move closer to their immediate families, many elders are left vulnerable to loneliness and the psychological effects therein.

There are also more seniors relative to other age groups than ever before. This means taking care of grandpa isn’t just culturally important, it’s a juicy revenue opportunity. Bullshit Economy contributing factors such as Americans working longer hours, and the Millennial and Gen X cohorts having less wealth means grannies’ and grampies’ children have less time and money to spend looking after them. Add in the absurd cost of healthcare and you have three hearty blows in the artificially ballooning eldercare market.

Resting arthritically at the intersection of all this is Papa Health, a homecare startup that’s received $92 million in funding which:

“...pairs older adults and families with Papa Pals for companionship and assistance with everyday tasks.”

Papa’s ‘companionship as a service’ offering is only unique if you neglect to consider the world’s oldest profession. Instead, the confluence of dismal economic circumstances, the proliferation of two-sided marketplaces supplied by 1099 labor such as Uber and TaskRabbit, and the insatiable need for data has Papa asking the question, “What if we paid college students $15/hour to take grandmas to coffee, track how it goes, then sell the data to insurance companies?”

Papa’s true differentiator is that it’s striving to meld tech’s hottest paths to profit: 

  1. A marketplace model with contract labor that skirts industry regulations (Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, etc.)

  2. The collection and selling of user data to third parties (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, etc.)

Feed The Insurance Co’s

As evidenced by the market caps of companies like Facebook and LinkedIn, the potential for products whose business is ingesting our data for free and then repackaging and reselling to 3rd parties is enormous. One such 3rd party hellbent on its need for data is the insurance analytics industry. Currently at a market size of just under $8 billion, it’s expected to grow to over $22 billion by 2027. It was only a matter of time until our sense of duty to the aged crossed paths with data’s tantalizing margins.

“You’re so kind to me, I really wanna tell you truthfully, you did a marvelous job taking me to the store and on my chores that I had to do. I appreciate it.” - Sam Cirrincione, Papa Health user

Papa’s ‘Papa Platform’, allows the company to collect data on behalf of families and of course, health plans, with the goal of increasing quality of life. About the product, Papa’s CEO has this to say:

“I think what’s exciting about Papa is that we’ve become the eyes and ears of the plan.” 

Papa, according to its CEO, is aspiring to be the hall monitor for insurance companies. Deranged.

Papa’s quest to report on both the 1099s who provide the service and the old people that hire them opens the door for a feedback loop in which insurance companies could begin providing instruction to Papa caregivers on the optimal way to interact with the elderly.

Hoping this Loop Goes Nowhere

This has some disturbing implications, especially in the context of existing facial recognition technology and devices’ ability to listen and track us à la every phone and smart-home device on the market. Will Papa’s caregivers, upon request from Aetna, be instructed on the optimal curvature of their smiles and the most pleasant pitch and tone of voice? Which earlybird specials are in-network on Anthem plans? 

By virtue of being 1099 employees, Papa’s labor force is especially vulnerable to the whims of its employers. Since the ‘Papa Pals’ messaging is aimed at recruiting young people (18 and up) whose main requirements for participation are only a clean criminal record, a command of English, and a driver’s license, it’s reasonable to think that Papa is working with untrained clean slates when it comes to what does or does not constitute effective and kind interaction with those in their care.

As of January this year, Papa’s available in all 50 states—the market for cheap labor with high value continues its growth unabated. It’s no secret that every app tracks our data, but few so brazenly pair tech’s two highest margin strategies—low paid 1099 labor and selling data—in such a genial manner.  

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