FirstLight CEO Charts Course Toward Telehealth Expansion, Medicare Advantage Contracting

FirstLight Home Care recorded another year of strong growth in 2019, thanks partly to an uptick in national accounts and its work with employee-assistance programs (EAPs).

The Cincinnati-based in-home care franchise company plans to double down on those areas in 2020, while also making progress on its Medicare Advantage (MA) efforts and FirstLight Health Solutions business, CEO and co-founder Jeff Bevis told Home Health Care News.

Overall, FirstLight’s 2019 system-wide revenues totaled slightly less than $180 million last year, according to Bevis. On the whole, revenue was solid across FirstLight’s several service lines, which range from personal care and companionship services to dementia care and travel assistance.

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“We see tremendous opportunity still from almost every corner in terms of revenue — personal care, companion care, dementia care. You name it,” Bevis said, speaking with HHCN at the Home Care 100 conference in Aventura, Florida. “FirstLight Health Care Solutions is also taking off with some more speed.”

Compared to past years, FirstLight saw significant revenue gains linked to its national alliances in 2019, with particularly big upside coming in the form of employee-assistance programs. FirstLight and other home care providers have tried to make inroads with EAPs for years with mixed results.

EAPs are the entities that design the employee benefits some employers offer as perks. Several notable corporations — Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) among them — have opted to launch caregiver benefits as a way to improve their workers’ on-the-job morale and general attendance.

Examples of EAP providers include Cascade Centers Inc., Curalinc Healthcare, BHS, Health Advocate and Wellworks For You.

In a 2018 Securian Financial Group survey of more than 800 past or present family caregivers, half of employed respondents said their caregiving duties impacted job performance, with the most common impact being the need to take days off from work. Lost days can be disruptive and costly for companies — and it’s a problem home care providers are naturally positioned to solve.

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“Major employers are leveraging this benefit for their health benefits packages for employees and immediate family,” Bevis said. “It’s to help people stay on the job. That is really starting to boom.”

Specifically, about one-third of FirstLight’s 2019 revenue was linked to national alliances and EAPs, he said. Several Fortune 500 companies are among the employers the franchiser is providing services for, too.

When it comes to Medicare Advantage, FirstLight is actively contracting with three MA plans in Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina. Some MA benefits carried out by FirstLight include personal care services post-discharge, while others revolve around in-home care for chronically ill individuals with at least two eligible diseases.

“We think those will help us see more interest,” Bevis said. “Like everybody else, the carriers and policy providers are all looking for outcomes and data. They want to see how you do.”

A fourth MA contract is “waiting in the wings,” he added.

Despite success with Medicare Advantage, FirstLight has had to walk away or turn down more contracting opportunities than it has accepted, mostly due to minuscule hours or payment rates. An encouraging sign for the home care industry generally, the MA contracts FirstLight does have in place offer a higher number of hours and “workable prices.”

“There are some plans that come back and say they’ll do $13 an hour — that doesn’t fly,” Bevis said.

Meanwhile, FirstLight Health Care Solutions is now in seven markets. FirstLight anticipates that number hitting 20 by the end of 2020’s first quarter.

Offered in partnership with HNC Virtual Solutions, a global telemedicine software company, FirstLight Health Care Solutions is a telehealth-driven program meant to fill certain medical-related gaps, such as medication management.

“We do medication management and administration, along with disease-specific care,” Bevis said. “It’s not home health care — the full, skilled model — but kind of our own offering. What we’ve understood from major carriers is [it has been a] gap-filler.”

Besides adding to FirstLight Home Health Solutions and going after Medicare Advantage, Bevis also noted that his company plans to expand its EMR system in the year ahead.

“We’re really bullish on that and using it to build relationships with health care systems,” he said.

The company also recently hired its first CFO, Darleen Poe, a former executive in the skilled nursing facility (SNF) space.

More than 170 franchised locations are currently part of the FirstLight system in total. FirstLight expects to see growth in 45 to 50 new markets in 2020, Bevis said.

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