Health Tech, Startups

Cigna taps MDLive for behavioral telehealth services

The insurance giant will expand its existing partnership with telehealth provider MDLive.


Health insurance giant Cigna will begin giving members access to online behavioral health services through MDLive starting in 2020. Cigna will offer the service in addition to Cigna Behavioral Health’s existing network of more than 18,000 virtual behavioral health providers. It will be available to the 14 million members enrolled in one of Cigna’s employer-sponsored plans.

“Access to virtual behavioral care is critical,” said Eva Borden, senior managing director of behavioral and medical solutions for Cigna. “When we first embarked on bringing forth virtual care, we started with our own provider network. It was through doing that that we saw there was a need.”

Cigna members will be able to schedule online appointments and access care through a video channel. They will have access to everything from cognitive behavioral therapy to prescriptions, as the platform hosts licensed counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Borden said she hoped the new service would help create better access to mental healthcare for patients, particularly those that face barriers in schedules, geography or accessibility. Roughly 20 percent of people in the U.S. have a mental health condition, but only a third of them seek care.

For Borden, who lives in rural Iowa, driving into the city for an appointment would take a total of three hours out of her workday. Through a telehealth service, she could make that same appointment over her lunch break.

“Driving that distance would be a complete barrier to care,” she said.

The new partnership will be an extension of Cigna’s existing work with MDLive. The two companies began working together in 2014, starting with MDLive’s virtual urgent care services.  Cigna is also an investor in MDLive; the payer recently led MDLive’s $50 million funding round in August of 2018.

Since Sunrise, Florida-based MDLive was founded a decade ago, the company has accumulated 35 million members for its urgent care, behavioral health and dermatology services. With the expansion of its partnership with Cigna, the telehealth company will add another 12.5 million members, MDLive CEO Rich Berner said.

“We’re helping them get access to very sorely needed services,” he said.

MDLive’s medical services still account for the company’s largest business segment, but the company’s newer behavioral health services are growing quickly. Berner said the company started building out the behavioral health aspect of its platform a little over three years ago, and it is now the fastest-growing segment.

“Whenever we look at new services, we focus on what problem are we trying to solve. Access is a huge issue. Convenience is a growing demand by consumers. The thinking was we could solve those problems by bringing it online,” Berner said. “The health care industry as a whole is trying to shift from reactive care to proactive health management. Many people with chronic conditions need therapy and don’t get access to it for reasons we talked about.”

Borden said she thinks MDLive’s solutions would be a “critical part of our foundation” in solving the problem of access to behavioral health services. But there‘s still plenty of work ahead.

“It won’t solve it all at once,” she added.


Photo credit: photo_chaz, Getty Images