Brightside Health to start serving Medicare, Medicaid beneficiaries

Mental health provider Brightside Health is partnering with Centene, Optum, Lucet, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and other payers to serve 50 million people in Medicare and Medicaid.

The telehealth company’s coverage network now spans more than 100 million people. Its Lucet partnership will serve Florida Blue members, while its Optum partnership will serve UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members.

Brightside’s expansion is unique, as few telemental health providers accept Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries, the company said in a news release. Still, Medicaid is the largest payer of mental health services in the U.S., according to KFF. And the Commonwealth Fund has found that only about half of Medicare beneficiaries receive mental health treatment, despite 1 in 4 living with a debilitating condition.

“The ongoing mental health crisis places an increasing and disproportionate burden on Medicaid and Medicare recipients, making it extremely hard for participants in these programs to access timely and effective mental health care,” said Brad Kittredge, co-founder and CEO of Brightside Health. “With this expansion, we’re addressing a major gap in our healthcare system and ensuring that millions of Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries will be able to receive the timely and high-quality mental health care they need.”

Each partnership will include Brightside Health’s Crisis Care program for individuals with elevated suicide risk. The provider anticipates 1 in 3 people in the U.S. will have covered care from Brightside. It expects to cover more individuals through additional partnerships in upcoming months.

In April, the House of Representatives introduced an American Medical Association-backed bill that would eliminate a requirement for doctors to see Medicare beneficiaries in person within six months of a virtual visit. That bill was reintroduced in May. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023, that requirement has been temporarily waived through Dec. 31, 2024, the Department of Health and Human Services says on its website.

During the first year of the pandemic, telehealth helped served more than 28 million Medicare beneficiaries, and the services were used 88 times more frequently than in the year prior. An Office of Inspector General report showed that individuals used telehealth for behavioral health services more than any other type of healthcare.

Brightside also conducted research that found low-income individuals benefited from telehealth services, despite assumptions they might have limited access to technology that is required for a virtual visit, according to the study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. However, the study did find that the higher income group showed greater improvement in the long term from telehealth services than its low-income counterparts.

Brightside Health can be paid for with insurance in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., with appointments available in 48 hours or less.