Consumer / Employer

CareFirst, Headway partner to improve access to mental healthcare

Through the collaboration, CareFirst’s individual behavioral health practitioners can join Headway’s platform so members can filter, choose a provider, book and pay in one spot.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield announced a collaboration this week with Headway, a tech company that aims to simplify the process for accessing mental health care.  

Through the partnership, New York City-based Headway is providing its software platform to mental health providers on CareFirst’s network, which services people in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia, said Brian Wheeler, CareFirst vice president of provider collaboration and network transformation.

CareFirst currently has thousands of independent mental health practitioners that members have access to. With Headway, which was founded in 2019 and also works with Aetna, Cigna and UnitedHealthcare, those practitioners have the opportunity to join the company’s software platform at no cost. Through the platform, members can search based on the care they need, and Headway will show all the providers in CareFirst’s network that joined the platform and meet members’ preferences.

A large behavioral health practice typically has a website, online scheduling, receptionists and other features that simplify accessing care. Solo practitioners don’t always have that, Wheeler said.

“It’s a challenge for our solo practitioners because they’re trying to run their business as a solo practitioner and support their clients, their patients, but they don’t have the infrastructure and it’s hard for our members,” Wheeler said. “Because if they were going to try and find access to one of those social workers, for example, or psychologists, they might have to make a dozen phone calls and leave voicemail messages to have an appointment that can suit their needs.”

Members of CareFirst can access Headway by going through the health plan’s provider directory or they can go directly to Headway’s website via computer or phone. Members can select certain preferences — including race, language, geography, in-person/virtual — and Headway’s platform will give them a list of options in CareFirst’s network. If members find a practitioner they’re interested in, they can book directly from Headway’s platform. By adding insurance details, members can see the cost of care upfront and are billed after the session through the software.

Under the partnership, CareFirst pays Headway for its services. Headway engages in value-based contracts with its payers, meaning it gets paid based on performance, CEO Andrew Adams said. CareFirst is willing to front the costs so its independent practitioners can expand their care, Wheeler said.

CareFirst began searching for a partner to help independent behavioral health providers through technology in Fall 2021 and ultimately selected Headway because it offered the easiest-to-use technology, Wheeler said. He declined to share what other companies CareFirst evaluated. Other mental health startups include Ginger and Modern Health, but most contract with employers directly to cover digital therapy services as a benefit, whereas Headway focuses on the administrative process, MedCity previously reported

“Headway had the technology suite that was the most user-friendly,” Wheeler said. “We were looking to create a win-win for both our provider partners and our members and Headway brought it all together in the most innovative way.”

Within a year, the hope is to have several hundred to 1,000 practitioners signed up on Headway’s platform, Wheeler said. CareFirst also hopes to add practitioners to its network by working with Headway.

“There are a number of independent practitioners in the behavioral health space that don’t participate with insurance companies just because of the administrative work … Perhaps we can get some folks who haven’t participated with insurance networks to come into the network through Headway because it’s easier that way,” Wheeler said.

In addition to growing its network, CareFirst’s ultimate goal by working with Headway is to make access to behavioral healthcare easier for its members and improve health outcomes, Wheeler said.

“If we can do that and really grow the number of independent practitioners that are organized under the umbrella of Headway over the next 12 months, it will have been a great success.”

Photo: Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images