Health Tech, Payers

BCBS Minnesota Inks Value-based Agreement With Homeward to Advance Rural Healthcare

Homeward will be serving BCBS Minnesota’s Medicare Advantage members in 24 counties. The company provides primary and specialty care in the home, virtually and in the community through mobile clinics. It leverages cellular-based remote monitoring to track patients’ health in-between visits. The company also partners with existing providers in the area for this care. 

When Dr. Jennifer Schneider, co-founder and CEO of Homeward, was growing up in Winona, Minnesota, her first job was delivering parts from her family’s auto shop to rural areas. She now believes healthcare should be able to do the same.

“We ask these poor, economically depressed people and emotionally downtrodden people to come into urban markets to receive healthcare,” Schneider said. “Yet my dad’s whole business is delivering spark plugs to them … If an auto parts business can do it, there’s probably a better way that [healthcare] can do it.”

Expanding access to care for rural Americans is what Schneider is working to do with Homeward, a value-based rural healthcare provider. And now she’s doing this in her home state. The company announced Thursday that it has entered into a value-based agreement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBS Minnesota) for 24 counties outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The agreement is for BCBS Minnesota’s Medicare Advantage members. Homeward provides primary and specialty care in the home, virtually and in the community through mobile clinics. It leverages cellular-based remote monitoring to track patients’ health in-between visits. The company also partners with existing providers in the area for this care. 

The value-based arrangement is with 100% upside/downside risk. Homeward will be paid based on reducing healthcare costs, and is focused on improving quality metrics using Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set and Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems measures. The former is focused on areas like the effectiveness of care, availability of care and the experience of care, while the latter addresses areas like the timeliness of service and the speed and accuracy of claim processing. Other information on payment is confidential, the company said.

There’s a real need for improved access to care in Minnesota given that 40% of BCBS Minnesota members live outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. In Minnesota, just 20% of healthcare providers serve rural communities, and more than a quarter of rural providers will leave the workforce in the next five years, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Meanwhile, about 80% of rural counties in the U.S. have inadequate numbers of primary care providers, according to the National Rural Health Associations Policy Institute.

Although the agreement between Homeward and BCBS Minnesota is starting with 24 counties in the state, the organizations plan to expand in the future.

“The work we’re doing in collaboration together is not a ‘start and stop,’” Schneider said. “This is a starting point to expand the coverage of what we’re able to deliver and meet the needs of people living in Minnesota.”

This is the second agreement Homeward has with a health plan — the first was with Michigan-based Priority Health for its Medicare Advantage members. Although the company is starting with the Medicare market, it hopes to cater to other age groups eventually, Schneider said.

“We’re not a Medicare company, we’re a company focused on delivery and access and quality care in rural healthcare markets,” Schneider stated. 

This distinguishes Homeward from other hybrid companies like Oak Street Health, which solely caters to those on Medicare and doesn’t focus on rural populations. Oak Street Health is pending an acquisition by CVS Health for $10.6 billion.

Photo: marekuliasz, Getty Images