Former Cityblock, SonderMind execs tackling mental health access with latest startup

UpLift provides a multisided marketplace, applying technology to empower patients to find in-network therapists that are covered by their insurance plan. (UpLift Health)

Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness among U.S. adults was increasing and in 2020 the number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression skyrocketed, according to Mental Health America.

About 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health issues, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports, but access to quality care remains a challenging issue. Only 45% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019.

To tackle the accessibility and affordability issue, technology-driven mental healthcare startup UpLift is launching in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area backed by $3.1 million in funding from Redesign Health, Kyle Talcott, CEO and co-founder of UpLift, told Fierce Healthcare in an exclusive interview.

UpLift provides a multisided marketplace, applying technology to empower patients to find in-network therapists that are covered by their insurance plan. (Of note, the mental health space is attracting so many players that the name might sound familiar—a different startup with a similar name, UpLift Health, employs cognitive behavioral therapy to help users with depression.)

Many therapists are cash-pay only and do not accept insurance because of the administrative burden and the time commitment required. This creates an affordability barrier for many people who need care but can't pay for out-of-network services, Talcott said.

Therapists typically charge $75 to $150 a session, and some as high as $200 a session.

"From an affordability standpoint, that shouldn't the only path to finding help on the mental health side," he said. "We are starting with that problem and bringing therapists into the insurance fold and bringing them into a virtual group practice."

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UpLift is launching its services first in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, which has diverse and marginalized communities that can’t always afford out-of-network mental health, said Missy Krasner, venture chair at Redesign Health. The company will then focus on building provider networks in other large cities.

The UpLift app acts as the bridge between patient, provider and insurer, guiding patients to find the best therapist for their needs at a price they can afford and enabling both virtual and in-person visits, Talcott said.

Krasner described UpLift as a "Match.com for mental health" that matches patients to therapists through an easy-access, consumer-facing platform.

Based in New York City, Redesign Health is a venture studio and holding company incubating tech-enabled healthcare businesses. Formed in 2018, Redesign has helped launch 16 healthcare startups, including Jasper Health, which helps cancer patients manage treatment, Dan Trigub's MedArrive and men's health startup Vault Health, among other ventures.

"COVID brought healthcare to its knees. Finally, we're meeting consumers where they have been wanting to be met for years. Consumers want convenience, access and they want it to be easy and seamless and for a long time, it hasn’t been," Krasner said.

With the soaring demand for mental health care, Krasner said Redesign Health was interested in investing in a startup in the behavioral health space and worked to develop the right leadership team.

"We wanted to find someone that was deep in payer and health insurance and super deep in double-sided networks that address both sides of supply and demand, similar to how Uber runs its drivers and also deals with customers that want rides. We went on a hunt and found Kyle with his experience in building digital health companies," she said.

Talcott brings to UpLift his background in scaling other successful health tech startups, including stints at Clover Health and targeting at-risk populations at Cityblock Health, where he served as head of national operations and helped to build out the company's virtual care services. UpLift co-founder and chief product officer Brad Webb served as vice president of product at behavioral health marketplace startup SonderMind.

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UpLift is not the only digital health startup aiming to address affordability and accessibility issues with mental health care. Headway, launched in 2019, developed a full-stack therapy marketplace that deals with the messiness of insurance, building out a behavioral health network of therapists who accept insurance, according to the company.

Headway, which has raised $100 million to date and reportedly has a $750 million valuation, says it has enabled more than 3,000 therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to accept insurance and facilitated around 300,000 therapy appointments.

"There are a lot of competitors in this space but we’re thinking differently as our approach is to skate to where the puck is going. We have figured out how to make a therapist a quarterback to the entire medical experience," Krasner said.

The startup is reimaging mental health to make it work for everyone—clients, therapists, and insurance companies, according to executives. For therapists, UpLift works to help them get paid faster and easier than other tools in the market, according to Krasner.

"For therapists, we make participating in insurance just as easy, if not easier, than cash pay," Talcott said. "UpLift 100% guarantees therapists get paid if they complete a session. They don’t have to wait for the claim to go through."

UpLift helps therapists with credentialing, patient matching and billing, according to Krasner. "We are dedicated to helping therapists build practices that are financially stable, seamless and sustainable," she said.

While many mental health startups work with employers to provide services as an employee benefit, UpLift is focused on working with payers.

"The employer market is very busy and there are a lot of solutions that mirror EAP. But, often, it's not coordinated and you typically get up to three or four sessions, which can help you get through a tough time. But to address more complex needs, we need to move beyond employers and that’s where the insurance model is the right approach," Talcott said. "This model enables patients to develop an ongoing relationship with a provider."

UpLift is currently contracting with health plans CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Anthem as well as several others, according to the company.