A growing number of investor-backed startups are looking to meet the growing demand for mental health treatments. This trend has been amplified by the pandemic. Harry Ritter, a physician who founded Alma in 2017, said the company aims to enable private practitioners to continue their practices and participate in major insurance networks.
“How can we help these amazing people, mostly small business owners, to be more successful in the modern healthcare system?” he said.
Mental health providers pay to participate in Alma, and the company also receives transaction fees when facilitating patient visits. Alma has contracts with 8,000 mental health professionals, insurance companies including Cigna and his CVS Health Corp. He has contracts with UnitedHealth Group Inc. divisions and therapists to access.
Historically, it has been difficult for health insurance to cover mental health care. Insurance companies sometimes impose restrictions on mental health care that do not apply to other medical care, and provider directories are notoriously inaccurate, making it difficult to find clinicians to accept new patients. It is Many practitioners only accept patients who can pay cash.
Insurers “are undergoing a fundamental shift in attitudes towards mental health care and perceptions of its importance,” Ritter said.
Health insurers look to Alma to expand their supply of mental health professionals. Cigna’s clients “need more care in the behavioral health space than is readily available in the market today,” said Tom Richards, head of Cigna Ventures.
Optum Ventures, part of UnitedHealth, has also invested in Alma. With the new funding, the company has raised about $220 million to date.
The rapid growth of online mental health startups has put some of their practices under scrutiny. Companies such as Cerebral Inc. and Done have been shut out by some pharmacies and insurance companies over concerns about how clinicians prescribe controlled substances. Alma has several doctors and nurses on its platform who can prescribe drugs, but prescriptions are processed outside the platform and the company doesn’t dispense drugs, Ritter said.
Thoma Bravo partner Ross Devor described Alma as a “three-sided marketplace” that benefits patients, clinicians and insurers. The technology will match patients and clinicians more effectively, and as access to behavioral health care expands, it will “recover data on outcomes that will raise payer funding and hopefully reduce overall health care costs.” can be obtained,” he said in an email.
A veteran of insurance company Oscar Health, Ritter founded Alma with the goal of providing a shared physical space for therapists to meet with their patients, as well as the software and community to support their businesses. Alma had just opened a second space in New York City when Covid shut down in-person visits.
Mental health care rapidly moved online and most remained online. In the U.S. before Covid, behavioral health care was rarely provided online, but in the first months of the pandemic, mental health and substance use disorder outpatient clinics were on the rise, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. About 40% of patients were done online. That percentage only decreased slightly in the following years.
Alma closed physical spaces during the pandemic and lost about 65% of its revenue, Ritter said. His 90% of sessions booked through Alma are now virtual.
Ayana Ali, a licensed clinical social worker in Brooklyn, New York, was in therapy part-time for 16 years, but always had other jobs. When her union status was dissolved in January, she began practicing full-time. Ali, she said, is possible because of her Alma.
The company made it possible for her to accept insurance for the first time. It also connected her with the patients she focuses on: women of color dealing with severe anxiety and miscarriage.
“Alma presents an opportunity to exist in a niche in a way that has never been seen before,” says Ali.
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