UnitedHealth, Blues Spinoff Lucet Proffer Behavioral Health Care Access Solutions

With two recently debuted product offerings, a pair of health care companies aim to solve a problem that has been thrown into sharp relief during the ongoing pandemic: highly variable — and often inadequate — access to behavioral health care services. Industry observers say that both solutions are likely a response to employer clients seeking increased care access points for their covered workers.

One of the announcements comes from UnitedHealth Group, which in January rolled out a virtual behavioral health coaching program that’s available to UnitedHealthcare commercial plan members with mild depression, stress and anxiety. Through the Optum-administered program, 5 million eligible fully insured plan members can access support “through digital modules and 1:1 video or telephonic conferencing and messaging with trained coaches” at no additional cost. Self-insured employers may also purchase the virtual behavioral health coaching program for their employees, UnitedHealth said.


Even With Split Congress, Some Experts Predict Heightened Health Care Oversight

Although there’s a divided Congress this year — with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats in charge of the Senate — there are still a variety of health care policy issues that federal and state legislators alike have in their crosshairs, experts said during a recent webinar hosted by the Alliance for Health Policy. And some of those agenda items could be of considerable interest to health insurance companies.

Paul Edattel, principal of Todd Strategy Group, LLC, a federal government affairs firm, said he expects the newly Republican-controlled House to zero in on budgetary issues. “Budgetary issues are top-of-mind for House Republicans and some Senate Republicans,” he remarked during the Jan. 25 webinar. “Things like the operating budget for the Department of Health and Human Services...will be under really heightened scrutiny relative to prior Congresses.”


Federal Funding Law Introduces New Compliance Challenges in Telehealth, Mental Health, Medicaid

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (2023 CAA) — the latest edition of the annual bill that funds the federal government — includes notable new policies that will touch on telehealth, behavioral health and Medicaid enrollment, among other areas. According to policy experts, because of the law, health plans have a great deal of new compliance requirements to manage in plan year 2023 and beyond.

Congress discussed notable reforms to telehealth and mental health care over the course of 2022, and the 2023 CAA includes permanent changes to the latter — and temporary extensions of pandemic-era policies for the former. Meanwhile, the law sets out requirements for states and managed care organizations disenrolling Medicaid members as part of the return of Medicaid eligibility redeterminations.


Becerra Touts Mental Health, Addiction Treatment Funding; Calls for Telehealth Reform

In remarks at a Dec. 13 Brookings Institution event, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra touted the rollout of the 988 mental health assistance line and the Biden administration’s push for more mental health funding. In addition to promoting the administration’s victories, Becerra also reiterated the urgent need to recruit and retain burnt out practitioners. And he called on Congress to make pandemic-related emergency telehealth flexibilities permanent.

The relatively low amount of available mental health care providers, particularly for youth and in rural areas, is a stubborn barrier to care that has frustrated health insurers that need to meet network adequacy requirements.


Federal Watchdogs Raise Telehealth Fraud Concerns

The pandemic-induced telehealth revolution expanded access to an exciting new modality of care delivery, but a new report from federal watchdogs found that federal payers face new, telehealth-derived challenges in stopping waste, fraud and abuse. Those findings mean the commercial carriers that administer certain federally underwritten health insurance plans have a new auditing and accountability challenge as telehealth settles in as a permanent part of the care delivery landscape.

The report, prepared by six Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs) from HHS, the Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA), Dept. of Labor and Office of Personnel Management (OPM), found that “while the expansion of telehealth has been essential to maintaining individuals’ access to care, there have been concerns about the potential for fraud, waste, and abuse associated with expanded telehealth services.”


Telehealth, Mental Health Care Provisions Could Pass Congress in Lame Duck Session

With midterm elections over, the soon-to-end 117th Congress will turn its attention to the biannual lame-duck session, and D.C. insiders say that health care items like reforms to telehealth and behavioral health care policies could be on the agenda. Meanwhile, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives will soon hold inter-caucus votes on leadership roles, including Speaker of the House chairs — and those polls could dictate what is possible in health care policy when the 118th Congress begins work.

The lame-duck session is the final gathering of an outgoing Congress, a last hurrah for members who have been voted out or will retire. Such sessions revolve mainly around prosaic government funding bills, which must be passed in order to keep agencies running in the new year. They also offer a chance for urgent policy considerations to advance; additional COVID-19 funding and pandemic preparedness legislation could get a hearing during this year's lame duck, D.C. insiders tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT. A lame duck session will typically pass an omnibus spending bill, which D.C. wags joke is a "Christmas tree" — in many years, nearly every member gets to decorate the end-of-year package with their own pet amendment.


Horizon BCBS Launches NovaWell to ‘Reimagine’ Behavioral Health

A new behavioral health venture that sprung from an innovative Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey initiative is focused on embedding its integrated approach within other health plans and provider groups. NovaWell, a Horizon affiliate that launched Nov. 14, is offering a suite of technology-forward solutions aimed at tackling the country’s ongoing mental health crisis. Jolted into the public consciousness by the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis is characterized by rising rates of anxiety and depression amid a shortage of trained professionals.

Backed by more than five years of testing and program design aimed at addressing the behavioral health needs of Horizon’s members, the NovaWell suite brings an integrated care management approach supported by network-enhancing solutions to a wider audience. Two of the company’s four core offerings, a fully integrated clinical model called NovaClinical and a network solution known as NovaNetwork, are positioned to bolster health plans, Suzanne Kunis, president and CEO of NovaWell, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT.


UnitedHealth Survey Finds Large Increase in Number of People Using Virtual Care

A recent survey from UnitedHealthcare found that 71% of respondents said they would likely use virtual care in the future, up from 53% in last year’s survey. Donna O’Shea, M.D., UnitedHealth’s chief medical officer of population health, tells AIS Health that the results indicate the use of virtual care is more than just a COVID-19-specific trend and is likely to become a permanent part of health care.

Still, that’s not to say that people prefer virtual care over visiting doctors in their offices. In fact, the 2022 UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey found that 60% of respondents preferred in-person appointments for non-emergency issues such as allergies, flu or rashes, while 26% preferred virtual appointments and 14% had no preference. The question assumed that the quality and costs of care were comparable between in-person and virtual settings.


Survey: Life Sciences CEOs Express Company, Industry Optimism for Next Three Years

Amid a global pandemic and inflation challenges, CEOs surveyed for a recent report expressed confidence in the three-year outlook for their companies and the economy. While many respondents from the life sciences sector said they expect a recession will occur within the next year, almost the same amount said their growth prospects are strong, according to the KPMG 2022 CEO Outlook. Those CEOs also expressed a growing interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG); and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

For the eighth edition of the report, KPMG spoke with 1,325 CEOs from 11 markets around the globe and 11 key industry sectors, including life sciences, between July 12 and Aug. 24. The company shared the responses from the life sciences CEOs on their three-year outlook with AIS Health, a division of MMIT.


Spike in Remote Patient Monitoring During Pandemic Is Driven by a Fraction of Providers

Billing for remote patient monitoring (RPM) jumped by more than four times during the first year of the pandemic, according to a recent Health Affairs study. The increase was mostly driven by a handful of primary care providers. Using medical claims data from the OptumLabs Data Warehouse collected between Jan. 1, 2019 to March 31, 2021, the researchers found that there were 19,762 general RPM claims in March 2021, compared with 4,355 claims in February 2020. Continuous glucose monitoring, however, only saw a slight increase over the same period of time.

In addition, RPM claims were highly concentrated. The top 0.1% of primary care providers — identified by the researchers as “high-volume provider group” — accounted for 69% of all general RPM claims.