The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on the need for virtual behavioral health services. However, many patients have trouble accessing it, especially in New York, a study by Mental Health America found. Mmore than 58% of adults with mental illness in the state receive no treatment, the report said. It ranked New York 42nd out of all 50 states on this measure.
Recognizing the need, Empire BlueCross BlueShield announced last week that it has selected four virtual mental health startups to add to its network of providers.
The companies are Alma, Headway, NOCD and Ophelia. The insurer chose to work with Alma and Headway because the two companies’ software makes it easier to expand the network of behavioral health providers that plan members can access, it said Jordan Vidor, Regional Vice President of Supplier Solutions at Empire. Meanwhile, NOCD and Ophelia meet specific needs: obsessive-compulsive disorder and opiate use disorder, respectively.
Empire already works with virtual behavioral health companies including Talkiatry and Space for conversations. But there was still more demand among members, prompting the insurer to pursue additional contracts, Vidor said. Empire serves more than 4 million members and more than 38,000 businesses, unions and small employers in New York.
“Access drives our decision to pursue these partnerships,” Vidor said. “If there are people who know they need care but are having trouble getting care, that’s a problem. Addressing this is a big part of our mission to materially and measurably improve the health of all New Yorkers, and it’s a driving force in our work to build our network with innovative, new provider partners.”
Vidor hopes that at least some of New Yorkers’ problems can be solved with the services of each of these companies.
Below is a description of the companies Empire contracts with:
Alma (New York): Working with major insurers, Alma simplifies the process for behavioral health providers to accept insurance. Clinicians who join the platform also have access to the company’s suite of tools, including scheduling, billing and HIPAA-compliant Zoom.
The company’s suppliers are now in the network for Empire’s trading members. These members can search Alma’s online directory to find a provider that fits their schedule and mental health needs, and can filter based on age, gender, specialty, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, therapy style and specific problems. Once they find a provider, they can book a consultation right from the Alma platform.
Headway (New York): Progress helps individual behavioral health practitioners build their practice through its platform. The company’s software provides mental health providers with administrative tools such as credentialing, scheduling, billing and revenue cycle management.
Empire Trade Members can search for a provider on Headway’s website and select certain preferences, including race and ethnicity, language, LGBTQ+, geography, and in-person or virtual care. People see the cost of care in advance and can make an appointment after 48 hours.
NOCD (Chicago): NOCD is a virtual provider for obsessive-compulsive disorder. The platform — now in-network for Empire’s commercial, Medicare and Medicaid members — allows people to receive virtual therapy from licensed therapists who specialize in exposure and response prevention therapy.
NOCD also provides support between sessions, such as through peer communities and self-help tools.
Ophelia (New York): Ophelia is a virtual opioid use disorder provider that combines telemedicine with drug treatment. The company is now in the Empire, Medicare and Medicaid commercial member network.
Through the Ophelia website, members can schedule a consultation call to learn more about the program. They then have an initial video visit where they meet with their care team, which consists of a prescriber, a nurse, and a care coordinator. The clinician reviews members’ medical histories and suggests a treatment plan. Members then have remote follow-up visits that can be done on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.
All four companies Empire selected use technology to improve access or deliver better care.
“The pandemic has had a significant impact on our lives, especially when it comes to mental health,” Vidor said. “That being said, one of the positives that came out of that was a greater openness to virtual care. Both patients and providers are more likely to engage in behavioral health care virtually, and we expect this trend to continue.
Indeed, telemedicine visits have declined for general health services, but virtual visits for mental health have remained stable.
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