Telehealth addiction treatment clinic Boulder Care just closed a $36 million Series B. I’ve got Founder & CEO Stephanie Strong here to talk about the virtual care company’s medication-assisted approach to opioid and alcohol use disorder treatment, and its growing-bigger-by-the-day presence in the Medicaid market.
In fact, more than 95% of Boulder Care’s revenue comes in from Managed Medicaid plans, and this focus on making medications like Suboxone accessible to traditionally marginalized patients is not only better for patients (drugs like these can cut all-cause mortality rate by half or more) but also compelling for payers. Stephanie says patients suffering from opioid addiction who go untreated are 550% more expensive to the plan than those who are not, and these types of medications facilitate recovery by making it bearable, blocking withdrawal symptoms.
We get into the details behind Boulder Care’s approach, which includes a number of wrap-around support services, including those provided by the startup’s care delivery team that is set to grow as a result of this Series B funding. And speaking of scaling… Does Stephanie have any concerns about challenges that Boulder Care might face prescribing-and-managing controlled substances as a result of the scrutiny created by Cerebral’s bad behavior? Any additional concerns about changes to the clinic’s telehealth practices when the Covid19 public health emergency comes to an end? And…what about competition in this space?? Particularly as similar-looking Bicycle Health announced its $50 million Series B just days earlier? A great inside look at how virtual care is changing the specialized mental health care space.
“As I’ve said before, I believe Dr. Ladapo is an anti-science quack who doesn’t belong anywhere near our state’s Surgeon General office, let alone running it. But now that he’s been confirmed, it’s my sincere hope that he and Governor DeSantis choose to focus on saving lives and preventing unnecessary illness instead of continuing their absurd promotion of conspiracy theories and opposition to proven public health measures — but I’m not going to hold my breath.”
When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law twelve years ago today, Joe Biden called it “a big f-ing deal.” Little did he, or anyone else at that time, realize how big of a deal it was. Just ten years later, America was engulfed in a global pandemic, the magnitude of which hadn’t been seen in a century. Two years after that, the numbers are chilling: over 79 million people were infected, at least 878,613 were hospitalized, and 971,968 have died.
As bad as these numbers are, things would have been much worse if the ACA hadn’t come to pass. The ACA created an essential safety net that protected us from even more devastation. Covering over 20 million more people, it is the single largest health care program created since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Thanks to the ACA:
The estimated 9.6 million people who lost their jobs during the pandemic didn’t have to worry as much about finding health care coverage if they got sick from Covid (or anything else) – they could shop for subsidized insurance on the public exchanges or apply for Medicaid. This helped millions of people to stay covered, which saved thousands of lives. In fact, the overall rate of uninsured people has not increased significantly during the pandemic, thanks to the safety net of these public health care programs.
The 79 million people who got Covid didn’t have to worry about whether their infection’s aftermath would result in acquiring a pre-existing condition that would prohibit them from buying health insurance in the future (if they couldn’t get coverage through their jobs).
Those who were burnt out from the pandemic and joined the Great Resignation did not have to worry that they would be locked out of health insurance coverage while they took a break or looked for a new job. According to the Harvard Business Review, resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees (those between 30 and 45 years old), a stage of life when health insurance is critical, given the formation of families and the emerging health issues that come with age.
The ACA’s remarkable safety net framework made it far easier for policy makers to deploy federal funds during this unprecedented emergency. The American Rescue Plan Act , a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, included provisions that built on the ACA, including more generous premium tax credit subsidies. Its predecessor, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) of 2020 enhanced Medicaid funding and required states to provide continuous Medicaid coverage.
For working- and middle-class people, the health insurance exchanges (both state and federal) provided one-stop shopping with enhanced federal subsidies which made health insurance more accessible for people who lost their employer-sponsored insurance. Many Americans who needed health insurance turned to the ACA marketplaces to find a plan. Amid the recent surge in resignations, the Biden administration announced that sign ups hit an all-time high of 14.5 million when open enrollment ended in January 2022.
For lower income people, the Medicaid program was there, stronger than ever, thanks to 38 states opting into the ACA’s expansion of the program. An increased federal matching contribution helped states to finance Medicaid enrollment during the worst of the economic downturn and prevented Medicaid disenrollments.
Additional benefits from these measures included reducing health disparities, ensuring mental health coverage, and helping new moms with more robust coverage.
Despite the ACA’s strong foundation and the many good things worth celebrating on its twelfth anniversary, there are difficulties ahead. The expanded premium subsidies and enhanced Medicaid funding are only temporary – both are set to expire this year. With that will come a loss of insurance coverage as people struggle to afford what’s on offer. On top of this, the public health emergency will be unwinding which will bring continuous Medicaid coverage to an end. And there are still too many uninsured people in this country (27.4 million). Retaining the expanded ACA benefits and finding other ways to build upon the ACA’s foundation are critical issues for the mid-term elections this fall.
A recent study shows that support for the ACA and universal health care has increased during the pandemic. We shouldn’t “let a good crisis go to waste.” We need to make our voices heard and commit to building the future. We’ve had to expend far too much energy over the past decade defending the ACA and protecting it from repeal. The pain we’ve endured during this pandemic should not be for naught. Now is the time to assume an expansive posture of building toward universal health care. Retaining the expanded ACA benefits is an important incremental step. As difficult as the pandemic has been, it is providing a once-in-a-century opportunity to address America’s unfinished business in health care. The ACA is an excellent foundation. Let’s build on that so that we have a lasting cause for celebration.
Two experts in mental health care for the Medicaid market stop by to help us get smart on the challenges facing patients and providers alike in this critical area of care. It’s not just the payment model that is different; stigma is different, patients are more racially and culturally diverse than those in commercial plans, support systems vary, and even the normalization of seeking mental health care manifests itself differently when it’s individually-driven as opposed to part of an “employer group.”
Anna Lindow, CEO of digital-first mental health startup Brave Health, and Vik Bakhru, Chief Health Officer of new managed Medicaid plan Circulo (the one built on Olive’s health tech platform) share what they know about this patient population, including what they are learning via the partnership they share to provide Brave Health’s services to Circulo’s members in Columbus, Ohio and Albany, New York.
The top of this conversation starts with the trend-talk and identification of the key issues facing Medicaid mental health care, then we get into some updates from Brave and Circulo, including how Circulo is examining “what it means to be a payer of care” and looking to innovate just one-year after launch.
Healthcare startups serving the Medicaid population are FINALLY catching the attention of investors and, this time, it’s for improving access to mental health services. Brave Health’s CEO Anna Lindow and I catch up in-person at HLTH 2021 – under super-secret embargo – to talk about Brave’s $10M Series B funding which was just announced today.
We get into Brave Health’s virtual-first approach to therapy, psychiatry, and outpatient addiction services, its tech underpinnings (which Anna hopes makes her services feel like “magic” to patients and providers alike), and the best-and-most-challenging parts about working with Medicaid plans.
This funding round, which takes Brave Health’s total funding to over $20M, should help with surmounting one of Anna’s biggest challenges: the extra effort required to expand to new states and the new set of Medicaid requirements and regulations that meet her every time she crosses state lines. Still, Brave Health has already expanded into 10 states in two years and, when utilized by Medicaid case managers, providers, and plans, is making a real impact on outcomes and cost of care. We dive into the details about meeting the mental health needs of a population that has typically been misunderstood and marginalized, and talk more about the nuances of supporting innovation and investment in solutions for people with Medicaid.
Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt
For my health care tidbits this week, I am featuring the the Urban Institute report on the uninsured that’s released today. “Between March 2019 and April 2021 the percentage of U.S. adults reporting they had employer-sponsored coverage declined from 65% to 62.3%, a decrease of approximately 5.5 million adults. The share of adults reporting public coverage increased from 13.6% to 17.5% percent, an increase of approximately 7.9 million adults”. So like it or not we are slowly becoming a public health plan nation–of course the public health plan picking up the slack is Medicaid. And that in practice means we are 2 nations. “In April 2021, the uninsurance rate in non-expansion states was more than double that of expansion states (18.2% versus 7.7%)”.
Which means that Texas & Florida (the two big non-expansion states) really don’t care about their people’s health. And taking a look at their governors’ current attitudes towards COVID, you would not be surprised.
Innovation in Medicaid is HAPPENING – and not only is it capable of creating better, less expensive healthcare for Medicaid members, but Cityblock Health is proving that it can also be the underpinning of a business worth over $1B dollars.
Dr. Toyin Ajayi, Cityblock’s co-founder & President, walks through the company’s novel business model, which goes AT-RISK to take care of some of the highest risk patients in all of healthcare. Here’s how it works: the startup contracts with health plans that provide Managed Medicaid services, helps them identify groups of patients that are of highest risk or rising risk, then takes over the financial and clinical accountability for that group. Cityblock then envelopes those members in a suite of highly personalized services that address both their healthcare needs and the social care challenges that are connected to them. In short…Cityblock is a medical practice built at the bustling intersection of value-based care and social determinants of health.
Toyin talks through some examples of the unique challenges facing the 75,000+ members Cityblock works with, particularly what they are learning about what it takes to “earn the right” to provide this population with care. But, is the high-touch, tech-infused core of their model defensible? What stops a huge national Managed Medicaid health plan like Centene or Molina from simply replicating this within their own multi-billion-dollar enterprises? Competition, expansion, funding, and outcomes – we get into it all, and hear Toyin’s near-term vision for Cityblock as it puts the nearly $500M its received in venture funding to work on “transforming the healthcare ecosystem for those who need it most.”
Episode 60 of “The THCB Gang” was live-streamed on Thursday, July 1st. Matthew Holt (@boltyboy) was joined by policy consultant/author Rosemarie Day (@Rosemarie_Day1); THCB Editor and soon-to-be medical student at Yale, and first time #THCBGang participant Christina Liu (@ChristinayLiu) and–making a rare but welcome appearance –venture investor & soccer mogul Marcus Whitney @marcuswhitney We had a great wide ranging chat about Medicaid, venture capital and the unnecessarily excessive rigors of applying to medical school, and what that means for health equity.
The video is below but if you’d rather listen to the episode, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels.
Mothers deserve more than a day of recognition this year—they deserve the whole month, and more. The pandemic has been particularly hard on women, especially poor women and women of color.
To demonstrate the appreciation mothers deserve this Mother’s Day, we should get them something they really need: health care. To improve maternal health, we should look to the Medicaid program, long a pathway to accessible, quality health care for low-income Americans. Medicaid is especially important for mothers; it covers close to half of all births in the U.S.
Now, states have the opportunity to do even more for moms.
The American Rescue Plan signed into law in March gives every state the option to extend Medicaid maternity coverage for up to 12 months postpartum, a significant increase from the current limit of just 60 days. Illinois has already announced it will extend postpartum coverage; other states should follow. Extending the guaranteed coverage period will increase access to postnatal care during this ‘fourth trimester’ to ensure that women can access treatment for common conditions like postpartum depression as well as preventing organ prolapse or hemorrhage. Not only mothers will benefit. Parental insurance is associated with better health for children, including a lower risk of adverse childhood experiences.
In addition, the American Rescue Plan offers an opening to expand Medicaid with even more federal funding than is currently available through the Affordable Care Act. The 12 states, mostly in the South, that have not expanded their Medicaid programs are leaving hundreds of thousands of women without the support they deserve.
Expanding Medicaid programs will provide robust access to health care to more women and reduce maternal morbidity and mortality, which has reached crisis proportions among many women of color. Black and Indigenous women are more likely than other women to die during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. According to the CDC, the maternal mortality rate is 2.5 times higher for Black women than white women. Disparate access and uneven quality of care, higher rates of chronic illness, and racism all play a part in that grim statistic.
The disproportionate burden of maternal mortality and adverse outcomes from childbirth has long-lasting effects on mothers and their children. Black newborns have an increased risk for long-term complications resulting from pre-birth complications. They may also face generational poverty and trauma in the long run if they are born to a mother who dies during childbirth.
If you would like to visit the meeting place of America’s two great contemporary pandemics –COVID-19 and structural racism – you need only visit America’s Nursing Homes.
This should come as no surprise to Medical Historians familiar with our Medicaid program. Prejudice and bias were baked in well before the signing of Medicaid and Medicare on July 30, 1965.
President Kennedy’s efforting on behalf of health coverage expansion met stiff resistance from the American Medical Association and Southern states in 1960. Part of their strategic pushback was the endorsement of a state-run and voluntary offering for the poor and disadvantaged called Kerr-Mills. Predictably, Southern states feigned support, and enrollment was largely non-existent. Only 3.3% of participants nationwide came from the 10-state Deep South “Black Belt.”
Based on this experience, when President Johnson resurrected health care as a “martyr’s cause” after the Kennedy assassination, he carefully built into Medicaid “comprehensive care and services to substantially all individuals who meet the plan’s eligibility standards” by 1977. But by 1972, after seven years of skirmishes, the provision disappeared.