Alma raises $130 million to expand platform for mental health clinicians



Alma, a mental health start-up that helps therapists manage their practices and contracts with insurers, raised $130 million from supporters including private equity firm Thoma Bravo and venture capital arm Cigna Corp., said the enterprise.

The deal values ​​Alma at about $800 million, according to a person familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named to discuss private information.

A growing number of investor-backed startups are trying to meet the rising demand for mental health treatments, a trend that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Harry Ritter, the doctor who founded Alma in 2017, said the company strives to allow individual practitioners to maintain their practices and affiliate with large insurance networks.

“How can we help these amazing people, who are mostly small business owners, to be more successful in the modern healthcare system?” he said.

Psychiatric providers pay a fee to join Alma, and the company also receives transaction fees for the patient visits it facilitates. Alma has enrolled 8,000 mental health professionals and has agreements with insurers including Cigna and units of CVS Health Corp. and UnitedHealth Group Inc., which therapists can access.

In the past, it has been difficult to get mental health care covered by health plans. Insurers sometimes set limits on mental health care that don’t apply to other medical care, and their provider rosters can be notoriously inaccurate, making it difficult to find clinicians who accept new patients. Many doctors only accept patients who can pay cash.

Insurers are going through a “fundamental shift in attitudes and appreciation of the importance of mental health care,” Ritter said.

Health plans look to Alma to expand their mental health professional offerings. Cigna’s clients “need more behavioral health care than is currently readily available in the marketplace,” said Tom Richards, who heads Cigna Ventures.

Optum Ventures, part of UnitedHealth, is also an investor in Alma. The company has raised approximately $220 million to date with the new financing.

The rapid growth of online mental health startups has led to some of their practices coming under scrutiny. Companies like Cerebral Inc. and Done have been cut off by some pharmacies and insurers over concerns about how their clinicians prescribe controlled substances. While Alma has some doctors and nurses on its platform who can prescribe medication, prescriptions are processed outside of the platform and the company doesn’t dispense medication, Ritter said.

Ross Devor, a partner at Thoma Bravo, described Alma as a “three-way marketplace” that benefits patients, doctors and insurers. The technology more effectively matches patients with clinicians and can “gather data on outcomes that will increase care payers’ funds and hopefully lower their overall cost of care” as access to behavioral health care expands, he said in an email.

Ritter, an insurer Oscar Health veteran, founded Alma with the goal of providing shared physical spaces for therapists to meet with patients, along with software and a community to support their businesses. Alma had just opened its second space in New York City when Covid halted in-person visits.

Mental health care quickly moved online and largely stayed there. While little behavioral health care was delivered online in the pre-Covid US, about 40% of outpatient visits for mental health and substance use disorders in the early months of the pandemic were virtual, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This proportion fell only slightly in the following year.

Alma closed its physical spaces during the pandemic and lost about 65% of its revenue, Ritter said. Now 90% of sessions booked through Alma are virtual.

Ayana Ali, a licensed clinical social worker in Brooklyn, New York, had a part-time therapy practice for 16 years but always had other jobs. When her job with a union was eliminated in January, she started her practice full-time. Ali said it was only possible because of Alma.

The company enabled her to take out insurance for the first time. It also connected her to patients in her area of ​​focus: working women of color struggling with severe anxiety or miscarriage.

“Alma gives you opportunities to exist in your niche in ways I’ve never seen before,” Ali said.

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