Cigna has plans to expand mental health offerings to its 14 million members, reflecting increasing demand for behavioral health services by employers and individuals as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ripple across the U.S.
The Bloomfield, Conn.-based insurer's employer-sponsored, individual and family members can now access behavioral health coaching, therapy and psychiatry services as an in-network benefit through a company it has invested in, Ginger.
By adding Ginger's services as a benefit, Cigna aims to offer members preventive care before more serious mental health conditions arise and help users address depression, relationship challenges and sleep problems.
The startup belongs to a class of smartphone mental health companies like Talkspace, which has announced plans to go public through a $1.4 billion special purpose acquisition company this year; Lyra Health, which is now valued at $2.4 billion; and Modern Health, which has so far raised $167.4 million to help employers offer behavioral health services to their workers.
Ginger has attracted its own share of investment. The San Francisco-based company has raised $220.7 million in venture funding, with contributions from the insurer's investment arm, Cigna Ventures. Cigna said it is the first national health plan to offer Ginger's services.
"Right now, more than ever, individuals are seeking out mental health support, and our relationship with Ginger creates more access to that care, when and where customers need it," Cigna Chief Medical Officer Dr. Doug Nemecek said in a statement.
The partnership reflects the rise in demand for behavioral health services among Cigna members. Since the start of the pandemic, the insurer said outpatient behavioral care among enrollees has risen 27%. The majority of users have been female, and 45% of those seeking care were under age 30. Sixty percent of all behavioral health customers are now using virtual services.
An analysis of pharmaceutical claims data by Cigna's pharmacy benefit manager shows a nearly 8% increase in the use of antidepressants in 2020 compared with 2019. Almost a third of all people taking antidepressants in 2020 had no history of taking them.
Enrollees must download the Ginger app and provide their insurance information, which allows eligible beneficiaries to text with a behavioral health coach.
A 2019 study in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare found "marginal evidence" to support texting as a treatment approach for depression, but ultimately concluded that more research was needed on its efficacy. Individuals who require higher levels of care can add therapists or psychiatrists to their care team for video sessions. Studies have shown that video therapy sessions are as effective as in-person counseling.