Telemental news roundup: Brightside Health expands Medicaid/Medicare partners; Blackbird Health gains $17M Series A; Nema Health’s PTSD partnership with Horizon BCBSNJ

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Mental health, whether pure ‘telemental’ or an integrated in-person/virtual model, remains one of the healthier (so to speak) sectors of digital health.

Brightside Health announced today a series of new and expanded health plan partnerships as well as expanded state coverage for Medicare and Medicaid plans.

  • CareOregon with a new contract to serve Medicaid beneficiaries.
  • Blue Shield of California with a new contract to serve Medicare Advantage enrollees.

These add to Brightside’s partnerships announced last October:

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas–expanded contract to include Medicare Advantage coverage.
  • Centene’s expansion of coverage state-by-state, including Nebraska Total Care Medicaid and Wellcare Medicare Advantage.
  • Optum for UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members
  • Lucet for Florida Blue members

Under traditional Medicare, coverage now includes Texas, California, Delaware, Arizona, New York, Washington, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, and Illinois.

Beneficiaries and members can access Brightside’s virtual psychiatric therapy including medication, plus cognitive and behavioral therapy with independent skill practice, and Crisis Care, Brightside’s program for those with elevated suicide risk. With the new partnerships, Brightside is now estimating that they cover approximately 100 million lives–one in three US covered lives–and is seeking to further expand these partnerships as well as to traditional (original) Medicare Part B beneficiaries. Brightside Health was founded well before the gold rush in telemental health–2017–and has raised over $81 million over five rounds up to a Series B in March 2022, mainly led by Acme Capital (Crunchbase). Brightside release, Yahoo! Finance, Psychiatric Times

Blackbird Health raised $17 million in a Series A funding. This was led by Define Ventures with participation from Frist Cressey Ventures and GreyMatter, for a total raise of $23 million to date. Blackbird addresses the other side of the spectrum from Medicare–pediatric mental health in an integrated in-person and telemental health model–and serves patients aged 2-26. Blackbird’s care model considers in an ‘understand-first’ approach how children’s brains develop over time and the impact that growth has on mental health. Another unique aspect is that they developed a series of ‘Blackbird Biotypes’ based on 50 million data points drawn over a decade that identify patterns of behavior in clusters of individuals with similar symptoms-linked brain features. These assist in assessment, accurately identifying the underlying root cause of symptoms, and proposing integrated and personalized treatment plans. Blackbird claims this approach results in substantially lower use of medications and ED utilization. Last year, Evolent Health co-founder and COO Tom Peterson joined the company after his own family’s experience with Blackbird’s therapeutic model to help it scale from its three clinics and 40 providers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Blackbird release, Forbes

Startup Nema Health, a virtual clinic targeting a single condition–post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)–is now in-network in Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ (Horizon BCBSNJ) commercial plans. Nema’s model is virtual care for PTSD from evaluation and virtual therapy sessions, starting with intensive sessions 3-5 times per week for 2-4 weeks, through support from a designated peer mentor plus messaging and interactive exercises. Based in NYC, Nema is in-network with UnitedHealthcare/Optum, Oxford, Oscar, and Connecticare in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Horizon is New Jersey’s largest insurer. Nema claims that 76% of their patients no longer meet PTSD criteria after completing Nema therapy. Nema is at seed stage funding of $4.1 million from .406 Ventures and Optum Ventures, raised last November. FierceHealthcare, Nema release

Why this matters:

Since 2020, telemental health got a black eye (and then some) from ADHD and opioid medication-assisted treatment (MAT) providers such as Cerebral, Done Health, Truepill, and others. Thriving during the pandemic, many of them are now facing various Federal charges. Others, like Calm, are basically meditation and sleep apps. The real need, and provider shortage, remains.

The need for psychiatric care and support for Medicare and Medicaid covered populations is high, but clinical supply is low.

  • According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in announcing the state-based Innovation in Behavioral Health (IBH) eight-year, eight-state integrated care model last month, among the 65 million Americans currently enrolled in Medicare, 25% have at least one mental illness, with 40% of Medicaid members experiencing mental illness or substance use disorders (SUDs).
  • Yet provider shortages have worsened over time–as of 2020, The Commonwealth Fund estimated that an additional 7,400 providers (not necessarily psychiatric MDs) were needed to meet demand. Studies cited in Psychiatric Times (2022) estimate that the current shortage of psychiatrists, running at 6%, is expected to be between 14,280 and 31,109 psychiatrists by 2024. Distribution is concentrated in urban areas and their suburbs as well. It doesn’t help that physicians entering psychiatry in 2003-13 decreased by 0.2% and their average age is 55. Even in well-covered geographic areas, retiring doctors with no replacements have created coverage shortages.
  • For child psychiatry, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) reports that there are just 14 psychiatric specialists for every 100,000 children in America. 

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