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IBC invests in digital health firm to get more people help for depression and anxiety

The investment is part of a broader effort at Independence to integrate mental health care into the doctor's office.

Independence Health Group has invested in Quartet Health with the goal of getting more of its members quicker access the mental health care.
Independence Health Group has invested in Quartet Health with the goal of getting more of its members quicker access the mental health care.Read more/ MCT

In another sign that digital health investments are rising, Independence Health Group, the Philadelphia area’s largest health insurer, led a $60 million investment in Quartet Health, a New York technology company hired by health plans to connect members with mental health professionals, Independence said Thursday.

Independence started working with Quartet, which has big-name venture capital backing from the likes of GV, formerly Google Ventures, in February. But with the investment, Independence chief executive Gregory E. Deavens has now taken a seat on Quartet’s board.

Being an investor in Quartet, rather than just a customer, gives Independence an opportunity to influence the future of Quartet, whose customers include Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and four other large Blue Cross insurers nationwide. Deavens would like to see Quartet, founded in 2014, to develop the capability to serve children and adolescents, whose mental health needs have soared during the pandemic.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to help shape the future with regard to how our members get access to the behavioral and mental health support that they need,” said Deavens, who is in his first year as CEO of Independence, commonly known as Independence Blue Cross.

» READ MORE: During the pandemic, the need for pediatric mental health care has soared.

Independence’s stake in Quartet comes as investments in digital health companies are booming. Through the first three quarters of the year, investors poured $21.3 billion into 541 digital health firms, surpassing the $14.6 billion from all of last year, according to Rock Health, which invests in and tracks the market. Digital mental health companies have been the top target this year, the San Francisco company said.

Quartet is a tool that insurers make available to primary care physicians, who are increasingly screening patients for mental health ailments. It is not an app through which consumers access treatment directly, though a direct consumer interface may come in the future, Deavens said.

If the doctor has a patient who may have depression or anxiety, Quartet makes it easier for the doctor to make a referral to an in-network therapist, Deavens said. Quartet has access to the Independence network, but does not provide the treatment.

Patients do not pay for the Quartet service, but if their plan has a copay for mental health treatment, they would still be responsible for that when they get care, Deavens said. The referral could lead to either in-person or virtual treatment.

In the last eight months, more than 1,100 mental health and primary care clinicians in Southeastern Pennsylvania have signed-up to use Quartet, and more than 2,500 members have been connected to the Quartet platform for care, according to Independence, which has millions of members nationwide.

» READ MORE: Go to CVS for mental health screening.

Independence wouldn’t say how much it was putting into Quartet.

Deavens said Independence has been investing in young companies for the last seven to 10 years. In September, Independence’s Medicaid subsidiary, AmeriHealth Caritas, invested $29 million in Wider Circle, a Redwood, Calif., company that aims to improve health by facilitating peer-to-peer social networks.

In June, Independence joined four other Blue Cross Blue Shield plans to form a pharmaceutical start-up called Evio Pharmacy Solutions, which aims to contend with an expected wave of cell and gene therapies with prices that could top $1 million.

The purpose of the investments, Deavens said, is “to give us a glimpse into the new capabilities that are being brought to market by early-stage companies to really help to tackle some of the challenges that we face in health care.”