Carbon Health, Firefly Health will offer some Blue Cross MA members free mental health services

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (Blue Cross MA) will allow some of its commercial health plan members to receive free integrated virtual care starting in the new year.

The nonprofit health plan announced partnerships Friday with virtual primary care companies Carbon Health and Firefly Health. These partnerships include mental health services alongside other primary care services.

To qualify for free virtual visits through the Virtual Care Team Feature, Blue Cross MA members with HMO plans must designate a Carbon Health or Firefly Health provider as their primary care provider instead of an in-office provider. Plan members who qualify for health savings accounts must meet their deductible first, according to a news release.

The partnership is something of a departure from Carbon Health’s approach to mental health services. It does not work 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,” said Patrick Gilligan, chief commercial officer of Blue Cross MA. “We are excited to offer members access to two primary care practices offering the most comprehensive virtual primary care models we have 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 who opt into the Virtual Integrated Care program gain access to care and 24/7 communication through a mobile app and website; personalized wellness training; and in some cases medical devices such as blood pressure cuffs.

Using our virtual first model, we believe patients can gain expanded access to their providers for superior care and support while seeing unmatched satisfaction, better health outcomes and lower costs.

— Firefly Health CEO Faye Rothenberg

The move aims to reduce patient costs, improve the customer experience and increase access to primary care, the release said.

Dr. Ashley Yates, Blue Cross MA vice president of medical operations, said virtual primary care is a safe way to reach patients who are reluctant to engage with primary care providers. She also said previous research shows that patients with connections to a primary care provider tend to have better health outcomes and lower costs.

The integration of behavioral health into primary care is a nascent but rapidly accelerating force in the healthcare industry. The US Department of Health and Human Services has 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 their Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+) model has resulted in 68% of providers co-locating behavioral health services onsite.

However, the virtual aspect of digital health companies allows providers to both coordinate and locate all types of providers in the same care, regardless of where they or the patient are located.

By far, traditional healthcare facilities have 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 gain expanded access to their providers for superior care and support while seeing unparalleled satisfaction, better health outcomes and lower costs,” said Fay Rothenberg, CEO of Firefly Health, in the release.

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