Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota is increasing access to care for rural residents through a partnership with Homeward Health.
Homeward Health is a tech-enabled startup that uses a combination of mobile clinics, at-home care and remote patient monitoring technology to care for underserved patients in rural communities. Blue Cross Medicare Advantage members in 24 Minnesota counties outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area will have access to Homeward's services.
According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, the two organizations identified 10,000 Medicare advantage members throughout the state who are not utilizing existing care systems or have known gaps in care.
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“As we roll it out and we see how it functions in some of those initial counties, we can look to grow and expand,” said Dr. Mark Steffen, chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. “We certainly do see this as a model that should have legs in the future.”
Steffen said many of its rural members have to drive more than an hour to reach an in-person provider. He expressed confidence the hybrid model incorporating telehealth with mobile health clinics can help members who would otherwise struggle to access care.
"What the Homeward model represents is really getting out there and meeting people where they're at," Steffen said.
Former Livongo President Dr. Jennifer Schneider founded Homeward in March 2022 through a $20 million General Catalyst investment. In August, Homeward secured $50 million in a Series B funding round, which has helped fund its expansion.
“There's big interest in partnering with innovative providers who are willing to bear the total cost of care,” Schneider said. “The economic incentives in a fee-for-service world do not work in rural markets.”
While no date has been set for appointments to begin, Homeward anticipates being operational sometime this spring. The plan is to expand beyond those 24 counties over time.
The agreement is Homeward's second in the past calendar year. In August, the company announced a value-based partnership with Priority Health, a non-profit health plan in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The 23-county program in Michigan is similar to the company's agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.
“Our goal is to be in partnership, not to displace,” Schneider said. “To partner with local providers, local health systems and be an addition to.”
Schneider didn't cite any specific providers that Homeward will be working with for the arrangement in Minnesota.
Homeward will act as the full risk-bearing entity for its patient population. Schneider said this is necessary to improve overall health outcomes and reducing the cost of caring for rural patients. Rural patients have a 23% higher mortality rate than those in urban communities due to the lack of access to quality care, according to 2019 research published in Health Affairs.
“We're the people on the hook to deliver that care for that allocated money,” Schneider said. “We get paid when we're able to do higher quality care at more efficient delivery.”
This story first appeared in Digital Health Business & Technology.