Why transgender telehealth company Plume is getting into employee benefits

From the beginning, digital health company Plume was built to ease the barriers to care that transgender patients face. Now, in an effort to find ways to meet more patients where they are, it's expanding into employee benefits.

The employee benefits program is an opt-in benefit for employees who want to seek gender-affirming hormone therapy.

Once they're enrolled, patients will have access to such therapies through a smartphone app, with a care team that is made up largely of transgender people. Plume's services are also available to those who enroll in a cash-only membership.

Soltan Bryce, Plume's head of growth, told Fierce Healthcare that there is significant interest from human resources teams in offering benefits for transgender patient care, but uptake in employer plans is limited.

"Utilization is not high for trans folks because of so many barriers to access to care, which is one of our strengths at Plume," he said. "So it felt like a natural fit to continue to prioritize making sure we are wherever trans people access care."

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Bryce, who is a transgender man, said the Plume team has also spent a lot of time gathering feedback from the transgender community on how to most effectively serve their needs. He said that Plume works with close to 100 community collaborators who drive conversations on how the company can continue to evolve.

Matthew Wetschler, M.D., CEO and co-founder of Plume, told Fierce Healthcare that the platform is currently available across 16 states with plans to continue expanding reach. He said that while Plume is moving into employee benefits, it's built with the understanding that many transgender patients have a negative experience navigating in-person care and their benefits.

He said that through the telehealth platform, patients are able to form a "degree of connection" with the care team that they wouldn't otherwise get with a more traditional provider relationship.

"It allows for continuous contact between patients and the care team," Wetschler said. "We’re available any time."

Wetschler said 20% of transgender people delay care out of fear of discrimination, and 30% report experiencing discrimination or harassment during an in-person medical visit. That barrier leads many to seek alternatives; he said that 30% of transgender people living in urban areas will buy hormones on the black market to avoid a visit to the doctor's office.

Wetschler added that employers are also recognizing that younger workers value diversity in the workforce, and offering benefits like Plume's can effectively foster that. He said millennials, for example, double their average tenure in a job when they work for companies that are diverse.

Bryce said younger people are also far more likely to identify as transgender than older people. Generation Z, whose older members are now entering the workforce, is five times more likely than baby boomers to identify as transgender or gender diverse.

"It's a huge opportunity to be prepared for the workforce that’s coming," he said.