CareFirst, Headway partners to improve access to mental health care - MedCity News

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield announced a collaboration this week with Headway, a technology company that aims to simplify the process of accessing mental health care.

Through the New York-based partnership Progress provides its software platform to mental health providers CareFirstof network, which serves people in Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia, said Brian Wheeler, CareFirst’s vice president of provider collaboration and network transformation.

CareFirst currently has thousands of independent mental health practitioners that members can access. With Headway, which was founded in 2019 and also works with Aetna, Cigna and UnitedHealthcare, these practitioners have the opportunity to join the company’s software platform for free. Through the platform, members can search based on the care they need, and Headway will display all providers in the CareFirst network that have joined the platform and meet the member’s preferences.

A large behavioral health practice typically has a website, online scheduling, receptionists, and other features that simplify access to care. Solo practitioners don’t always have that, Wheeler said.

“It’s a challenge for our solo practitioners because they’re trying to run their business as a solo practitioner and support their clients, their patients, but they don’t have the infrastructure and it’s difficult for our members,” Wheeler said. “Because if they were going to try to get access to one of these social workers, for example, or psychologists, they might have to make a dozen phone calls and leave voicemail messages to get an appointment that would meet their needs.”

CareFirst members can access Headway by going through their health plan’s provider directory. They can then go to the Headway website via computer or phone and find a provider that is right for them. Members can select certain preferences — including race, language, geography, in-person/virtual — and Headway’s platform will give them a list of options within the CareFirst network. If members find a practitioner they are interested in, they can book directly from the Headway platform. By adding insurance details, members can see the cost of care in advance and be billed after the session through the software.

Under the partnership, CareFirst pays Headway for its services. Headway engages in value-based contracts with its payers, meaning it gets paid based on performance, CEO Andrew Adams said. CareFirst is willing to absorb the cost so its independent physicians can expand their care, Wheeler said.

CareFirst began looking for a partner to help independent behavioral health providers through technology in the fall of 2021 and ultimately chose Headway because it offered the easiest technology to use, Wheeler said. He declined to share what other CareFirst companies rated. Other mental health startups include Ginger and Modern Health, but most contract with employers directly to cover digital therapy services as a benefit, while Headway focuses on the administrative process, MedCity previously reported.

“Headway had the technology package that was the most user-friendly,” Wheeler said. “We were looking to create a win-win for both our supplier partners and our members, and Headway brought it all together in the most innovative way.”

Within a year, we hope to have several hundred to 1,000 practitioners signed up to Headway’s platform, Wheeler said. It also hopes to add practitioners to its network by working with Headway.

“There are a number of independent behavioral health practitioners who are not involved with insurance companies just because of the administrative work…Maybe we can get some people who have not been involved with insurance networks to come into the network through Headway because it is easier,” Wheeler said.

In addition to growing its network, CareFirst’s ultimate goal by working with Headway is to facilitate access to behavioral health care for its members and improve health outcomes, Wheeler said.

“If we can do that and really grow the number of independent practitioners that are organized under the Headway umbrella over the next 12 months, it will be a great success.”

Photo: Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images

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