Data released Wednesday by Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts revealed that mental health visits among its members have increased 100% since 2019. In response, the payer is upgrading its services.
In the third quarter of 2022, BCBS Massachusetts’ members had about 8 million behavioral health visits, compared to about 4 million in 2019. The insurer has expanded its provider network by almost 46% to about 18,000 clinicians in the last five years to meet this demand. To further meet members’ needs, the payer is expanding its primary mental health provider network by contracting with Talkiatry, which provides virtual psychiatric therapy, in-person therapy and medication management, the company recently announced.
Aside from working with Talkiatry, BCBS Massachusetts is also targeting specific conditions and populations by contracting with two specialty mental health provider groups: And Still We Rise spirit DynamiCare. The former is a provider for marginalized communities, while the latter is a digital therapeutics and coaching company for those battling addiction.
Although mental health was a challenge before the pandemic, Covid-19 escalated the issue, said Dr. Greg Harris, senior medical director of behavioral health at BCBS Massachusetts. It is for this reason that the insurer is ramping up its mental health services.
“We were seeing year over year increases prior to the pandemic and the pace of the increases have gone up dramatically,” Harris said in an interview.
BCBS Massachusetts chose Talkiatry because of its ability to provide support for a variety of ages, needs and preferences, Harris said. The New York City-based company joins several other primary mental health groups in the payers’ network, including Thriveworks, Headway, Refresh Mental Health spirit Valera Health.
In addition to expanding its primary mental health services, the insurer knew it needed to combat health disparities as well, Harris said. That’s why it chose to work with And Still We Rise and DynamiCare.
“And Still We Rise focuses on diverse populations, that’s their sub-specialty and that’s why we brought that group in,” Harris stated. “DynamiCare we brought in because they focus on a broad range of substance use conditions: alcohol, drugs and tobacco. And they provide a novel treatment model that we couldn’t really get in any other way.”
It already contracts with NOCD for OCD treatment, Forge Health for addiction and trauma support, Aware Recovery Care for addiction treatment and Brightline for family mental health support.
Looking ahead, Harris said BCBS Massachusetts will add additional virtual mental health groups and tackle other specialty areas, such as eating disorders and autism.
“These two areas, autism and eating disorders, are areas of high clinical complexity and sometimes difficulty in finding the right care in real time,” Harris said. “So that’s why those are two priority areas that we’ve really made a commitment to try and solve as soon as possible.”
Photo: SI photography, Getty Images