Heal — the rapidly growing Los Angles-based health care startup that’s trying to make doctor house calls mainstream — has launched a new offering for one of America’s most vulnerable populations.
Founded in 2014 by Nephrologist Dr. Renee Dua and her husband, entrepreneur Nick Desai, Heal is an in-home primary care provider that operates throughout California and New York, in addition to a handful of other key metropolitan markets. On Tuesday, the company announced the rollout of “Heal Pass,” a monthly subscription program designed to keep clients at home and out of emergency rooms, which are increasingly becoming overcrowded due to the COVID-19 virus.
“Every American deserves high-quality health care,” Desai, Heal’s CEO, told Home Health Care News.
In launching the new program, Heal sought to provide an affordable in-home primary care option for individuals who are uninsured or underinsured. For $49 per month, Heal Pass enrollees receive eight physicians house calls, annual physicals and next-day deliveries on medications prescribed by a Heal doctor.
In terms of timing, Heal is rolling out the new program now to help mitigate some of the negative consequences of the ongoing public health emergency and its impact on the U.S. economy.
Over the past four months, nearly 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. Many of those filers lost insurance after being laid off.
“Depending on what numbers you look at, there are between 25 million to 70 million uninsured or significantly underinsured people in this country,” Desai said. “They’re on very high-deductible, ‘basic’ plans, or they have no health insurance at all — maybe because they recently lost their health insurance through their employers.”
Instead of “health insurance,” which can often be costly, Heal Pass is designed to be “health assurance,” the CEO noted.
But while the program is meant to fill care gaps for vulnerable populations, it also has the potential to lower enrollees’ ER utilization. People often inappropriately use the ER as a doctor’s office, resulting in sky-high medical bills and overburdened emergency room staff.
About 30% of emergency department visits among patients with common chronic conditions are potentially unnecessary, according to a 2019 report from health care consulting firm Premier Inc. Those unnecessary visits contribute to an estimated $8.3 billion in additional emergency department costs.
“With [doctor house calls], you can talk to a doctor, get your questions answered, get your primary care, possibly make sure this bug you think you have isn’t COVID,” Desai said. “Instead of going to the ER, you can stay in your house and stay safe. And you know the ER isn’t going to chase you down for a $2,000 bill.”
Diving deeper into telemedicine
Since launching six years ago, Heal and its team of physicians have delivered more than 200,000 patient visits while establishing collaborations with some of the health care sector’s biggest players, Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM).
In total, Heal has raised more than $71.1 million. Its investors include American singer-songwriter Lionel Richie, well-known venture capitalist Jim Breyer, Fidelity Contrafund and others.
Traditionally, Heal’s business model has been built on in-person physician house calls, though the company always offered telemedicine options for follow-up visits. After the coronavirus began spreading across the U.S., Heal shifted to a telemedicine-first model to minimize exposure risks.
Compared to February levels, Heal has seen its telemedicine business grow “by about 21 times,” according to Desai.
“Starting around March 10, we made it mandatory that everyone had to use telemedicine first, so we can screen for COVID symptoms before you get a house call,” he said. “Now, you have the option of booking either [in-person or telemedicine] visits.”
While Heal’s telemedicine business has skyrocketed recently, its core in-person house call offering has also grown, though at a more gradual rate.
Looking ahead, Heal will look to grow Heal Pass enrollment throughout 2020 while pursuing expansions into new markets. Additionally, the company will continue to explore partnerships with Medicare-certified home health providers and non-medical home care agencies, Desai added.
Heal regularly works with many large home-based care providers already, such as Kindred at Home and Girling Home Health, among others.
“We work with many agencies around the country, from the large providers to your smaller mom-and-pop agencies,” Desai said. “They’re a source of referrals for senior patients.”