Talkiatry announced today that it has raised a $20 million Series A to scale a strategy simple in theory yet potentially challenging in execution: bring psychiatry services in-network with insurance providers. The round, led by Left Lane Capital with participation from the founder and former CEO of CityMD, Dr. Richard Park, is an extension of Talkiatry’s previously secured $5 million financing. That check was led by Sikwoo Capital Partners with participation from Relevance Ventures and Park.
Co-founded by Robert Krayn and Dr. Georgia Gaveras, Talkiatry is a digital health startup that helps consumers access in-network appointments with psychiatrists for therapy and medicine management. The company employs an ongoing care model in which it takes a consumer in through a virtual survey, matches them with a psychiatrist based on their needs, and then follows the consumer through the care process from diagnosing symptoms to the actual prescription of medicine.
The startup’s true innovation lies in its plan to make psychiatric services covered by insurance providers for consumers. Many plans today don’t cover mental health services beyond a certain point — and at the same time, many high-quality psychiatrists don’t participate in private insurance plans because of minimal reimbursement and paperwork nightmares. As a result, the psychiatrists that are in-network may be consumed with patients, and the ones at private practices could have a price of up to $300 per session.
“There’s many people who have identified the problem that [psychiatrists are not accessible],” said Krayn. “What the issue comes to next is are they really, really solving the problem, or are they working around it?”
Krayn explained how startups have turned to hiring therapists and nurse practitioners as replacements for psychiatrists, which he thinks decreases the clinical quality of care (the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist is that the latter can prescribe medication). He said his competitors have also focused more on lessening the out-of-pocket costs instead of avoiding them altogether.
“While that does increase access to mental health, we think that that necessarily doesn’t give the most amount of access to solve a real problem, which is that psychiatrists are not accessible,” he said.
Talkiatry has partnered with a number of insurance providers including United Healthcare, Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield and more. While companies like Cerebral, Headway and Uplit have similarly gone in-network, the co-founder argues that it has the least restrictive relationship with providers, meaning that consumers won’t have to pay out of pocket for anything outside of the typical copay.
“Sure, some platforms are offered as an added benefit in addition to a health insurance plan, but may have additional restrictions, i.e., a patient may get access to the platform but still pay a monthly fee to get service. Others may only be allowed a certain number of visits and some may only be available if your employer decides to offer it in addition,” he said. “Talkiatry has none of these restrictions and can be used like any other in-network doctor you typically go to.”
Stability among its supply of psychiatrists is key here. Talkiatry has hired psychiatrists as W-2 employees instead of contractors. By not using a contractor model, Talkiatry will have more stability in its services but could struggle with scale. The startup will rapidly and consistently hire psychiatrists with varying backgrounds to serve consumers. Plus, in order to expand into new markets, Talkiatry has to go through the arduous legal process of local licensing requirements, instead of just going to a white-label solution that helps staff similar companies while offloading individual practitioner certification.
While Ginger, a well-capitalized growth stage company, and Lyra Health, a digital health unicorn last valued at $4.6 billion, have recently made waves in the behavioral health space, Talkiatry is confident that it can break into the sector, which continues to attract record amounts of venture capital from investors.
Its competition is paying attention. For example, Ginger has made more efforts to bring in-network mental health solutions to users, recently partnering with AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia and Cigna.
“Providing psychiatry in-network is one avenue to ensure people receive care, but it still does not solve the supply-demand imbalance in the mental healthcare space,” said Russell Glass, Ginger CEO and co-founder. He explained how Ginger’s product being on-demand and virtual helps it address the growing shortage of mental health providers, which will be a hurdle that Talkiatry will need to address, too.
Currently, Talkiatry has 44 clinicians on its platform, with 33 as psychiatrists and the remaining as nurse practitioners. It has done 30,000 visits since its launch.