Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (Blue Cross MA) will allow some of its commercial health plan members to get free integrated virtual care starting with the new year.
The nonprofit health plan announced partnerships on Friday with virtual primary care companies Carbon Health and Firefly Health. These partnerships include mental health services along with other primary care services.
To qualify for the no-cost virtual visits through the “Virtual Care Team Feature,” Blue Cross MA members on HMO plans must designate a Carbon Health or Firefly Health provider as their primary care provider in place of an in-office provider. Health savings account eligible plan members must first meet their deductible, according to a news release.
The partnership is something of a departure from Carbon Health’s approach to mental health services. It does not operate in-network with health plans and charges $99 for 50-minute telehealth sessions. Firefly Health is in-network with several commercial health plans, according to its website.
“More consumers are using virtual care and experiencing its benefits, including greater convenience and affordability,” Blue Cross MA Chief Commercial Officer Patrick Gilligan said in the release. “We’re excited to offer members access to two primary care practices offering the most comprehensive virtual primary care models we’ve seen.
“They go beyond traditional primary care to help members take control of their health in a way that’s convenient and fits their lifestyle.”
Patients that opt into the virtual integrated care program get access to care and 24/7 communication through a mobile app and website; personalized wellness coaching; and, in some cases, medical devices such as blood pressure cuffs.
Using our virtual-first model, we believe patients can get expanded access to their providers for superior care and support, while seeing unparalleled satisfaction, better health outcomes, and lower costs.
—Firefly Health CEO Fay Rotenberg
The move is meant to lower patient costs, improve the customer experience and increase access to primary care, the release states.
Dr. Ashley Yeats, Blue Cross MA vice president of medical operations, said virtual primary care is a safe way to reach patients that don’t tend to engage with primary care providers. She also said previous research demonstrates that patients with connections to a primary care provider tend to have better health outcomes and lower costs.
Integrating behavioral health into primary care is a nascent but swiftly accelerating force in the health care industry. The US Health and Human Services Department released the Biden administration’s roadmap for using behavioral health integration to achieve the president’s mental health strategy first announced in the state of the union address.
In August, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that its Comprehensive Primary Care Plus model (CPC+) led to as many as 68% of co-locating providers behavioral health services onsite.
However, the virtual aspect of digital health companies allows for providers to both coordinate and co-locate all types of providers in the same care setting regardless of where they or the patient is located.
Categorically, traditional health care settings see some of the worst customer satisfaction scores of any industry, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
“Using our virtual-first model, we believe patients can get expanded access to their providers for superior care and support, while seeing unparalleled satisfaction, better health outcomes, and lower costs,” Fay Rotenberg, Firefly Health CEO, said in the release.