Blue Shield of California Adds Virta Health to Network for Diabetes Care

Blue Shield of California is expanding its relationship with diabetes care company Virta Health by adding it to the payer’s statewide provider network for 2023, the health plan announced Tuesday.

Denver, Colorado-based Virta Health’s platform aims to help people reverse type 2 diabetes. Users get a personalized diet program and a coach, and use monitoring devices and an app to track metrics like blood glucose levels and blood pressure. About 5 to 7% of Blue Shield of California’s members have type 2 diabetes, according to Angie Kalousek-Ebrahimi, senior director of lifestyle medicine at the health plan.

Virta is available this month to all Blue Shield of California members enrolled in preferred provider organization plans for individual and family, fully insured, self funded and Medicare Advantage. The payer has been working with Virta since 2019 when the digital health company joined Blue Shield of California’s Wellvolution, a platform of digital lifestyle apps. Now, in addition to having access through Wellvolution, members can also just go directly to the Virta landing page on Blue Shield’s website to sign up.

“The way we think about this expansion is it’s more about offering new points of access,” Kalousek-Ebrahimi said. “We have one point of access through Wellvolution … We wanted to have another option, another sort of direct relationship with Virta. Some members want to go to the mall, some members want a stand-alone boutique.”

The payer is also working with its providers to inform them on Virta’s services, Kalousek-Ebrahimi said. Patients can be referred to Virta by in-network physicians. They can also work with both a traditional provider and Virta for their diabetes care.

“Many of [our providers] are so busy that they just don’t have the bandwidth or the tools or the technology to do all of the different things that Virta can do, specifically for diabetes,” Kalousek-Ebrahimi stated. “Educating the provider population to refer their members to the Virta program is another really important goal that we have.”

Members who use the Virta program begin by going to a lab to gather measurements, including for their A1C levels. Lab results are then reviewed by Virta physicians, who decide if the member requires the program. If the member does, that person is assigned a coach who talks through goals and sets up the program. Users receive personalized recommendations on nutrition and are shipped biomarker testing supplies, including a scale, meter and blood glucose and blood ketone strips.

Blue Shield of California chose to expand its partnership with Virta after seeing the results it was driving for members, Kalousek-Ebrahimi said. Members who used Virta through Wellvolution for a year experienced an average 7% weight loss and improved A1C levels by 1.1%. Peer reviewed research on the company also showed that Virta patients lowered A1C levels by 1.3% on average and lost 12% of their body weight over a year.

“It really comes down to results,” Kalousek-Ebrahimi stated. “There are a lot of programs that help people lose weight or feel better. This program is specifically tailored to helping members reverse type 2 diabetes and that was very compelling.”

Other digital health companies for diabetes care include Omada and Livongo, part of Teladoc.

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