Payers, Startups, Health Services

Cigna covers Ginger’s mental health app as in-network benefit 

Insurer Cigna plans to cover mental health startup Ginger’s coaching services as a covered benefit. Investors are pouring more funds into mental health startups as they companies and insurers alike look for more ways to meet people’s care needs during a challenging year. 

Cigna began offering Ginger’s mental health service as an in-network benefit. Ginger offers text-based coaching and video visits with therapists. Photo credit: Ginger

Cigna is making mental health startup Ginger’s services available to its members across the U.S. The app-based service, which includes on-demand coaching, will be covered as an in-network benefit for 14 million people under Cigna’s employer-sponsored plans, individual and family insurance plans, the companies shared on Wednesday.

Investors have been pouring more funds into mental health startups in the last two years, and employers have also been more receptive, as they look for ways to address an increased strain on their workforce since the start of the pandemic. Earlier this year, after Ginger raised $100 million in funding, CEO Russell Glass said the company had added 300 new clients in the last year, including some big-name brands like Delta Airlines and Sephora.

But for most digital health companies, getting covered by insurers is a bigger challenge. Cigna will be the first national health plan to cover Ginger.

“Right now, more than ever, individuals are seeking out mental health support, and our relationship with Ginger creates more access to that care, when and where customers need it,” Cigna’s CMO for behavioral health, Dr. Doug Nemecek, said in a news release.

San Francisco-based Ginger was founded in 2011 with the idea of assessing people’s mental health using cell phone activity data. But the startup quickly pivoted to a model that many companies are adopting — text-based health coaching, with the ability to escalate to therapy or psychiatry. Like its peers, Ginger also offers self-guided exercises that people can do in their own time.

Cigna is an investor in Ginger, and participated in a $50 million round it raised last year.  More recently, the insurer acquired another longstanding partner, telehealth company MDLive, which had seen a significant increase in demand for behavioral health visits before and during the pandemic.

Other health plans are also testing the waters with digital health startups. Last year, Kaiser Permanente tried referring patients to six digital health startups, including meditation apps like Calm and Headspace, mental health coaching startup SilverCloud, and self-guided mental health exercises. It’s also an investor in Ginger.