Cigna expands virtual therapy to meet mental health demand

Cigna, one of the largest health insurance providers in the world, has expanded its virtual mental health provider network to make it easier for patients to access care during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Patients can talk, text or video with a therapist on demand. 

The expansion includes partnering with major mobile therapy company, Talkspace, to provide patients access to licensed therapists on demand from their cell phone or computer. In Arizona and other select states, patients can also access virtual mental health services through Meru Health’s 12-week app program.  

Coronavirus taking toll on emotional health

COVID-19 has accelerated the need for digital options for patients, said Dr. Rodgers M. Wilson, market medical executive for Cigna in Arizona where the company has over 465,000 customers.

Isolation, unemployment, being cooped up at home. These are raising anxiety levels and substance abuse in American households.

“We do know clinically, there’s an increase in alcohol consumption, there’s an increase in anxiety and there’s a recent report that indicated that 46 percent of Americans are concerned about getting the COVID-19 virus,” Wilson said.

Americans under stress, drinking more 

National surveys depict a rise in anxiety levels among many Americans.   

A new Stress in America 2020 survey published by the American Psychological Association (APA) finds that many Americans are experiencing considerable stress related to the coronavirus. Parents are among those feeling the most overwhelmed, the study shows. Adults with children report stress levels 20 percent higher than adults without children.  

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported an extreme spike in calls to its “Disaster Distress Helpline.” In March, calls increased 891 percent from last year. 

Substance abuse is of particular concern because peer-support is linked with successful treatment, Wilson said. 

“We’re telling everybody to socially distance; that increases the risk for those in recovery who require peer support in order to recover from their substance abuse addiction,” Wilson said. 

Now, there are options for virtual anonymous peer support. 

More patients seeking virtual therapy 

Since the pandemic started, patients have increased their use of virtual therapy, Wilson said.

Behavioral health visits have increased by 75 percent during the pandemic. Of those 25 percent have been video-enabled.

“That’s really exciting. Prior to the lockdown quarantine, virtual utilization was 2 percent. Presently, at post lockdown, it was at 57 percent,” Wilson said. 

Now, Wilson hopes that people who have been reluctant to seek treatment or counseling will be more comfortable doing it by phone or text.    

“This allows us to get services for people who would not seek services due to pandemic. But also it’s an opportunity to increase access for people who don’t seek behavioral health because of stigma. So it’s a great opportunity to engage those individuals also.”

Advice for those feeling more anxious

Wilson’s advice for those feeling more anxious but not in need of therapy? Nutrition, sufficient sleep, meditation or prayer. And turn off social media.

“Really limit your exposure to the constant banter of the pandemic; I think we need to reduce the amount of exposure to the news that goes on and on.” 

Virtual care services expanded in Arizona and nationwide

Cigna has launched the following virtual care providers in select states to deliver more support for mental health needs for customers:

·        Anxiety, Depression and Burnout: Through a 12-week app-based program, Cigna customers receive daily support from licensed clinicians and anonymous peers to treat anxiety, depression and burnout. The program is conducted through Meru Health and is available to customers in Arizona, California, and Colorado.

·        Substance Use Recovery: Cigna customers can access substance use recovery support by connecting with certified peer support specialists virtually through a partnership with MAP Health Management. The program is available to customers in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

·        Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Customers who are diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)  have access to NOCD, a treatment program led by a licensed, OCD-trained therapist with live video appointments and support in-between sessions by messaging the therapist and leveraging the platform’s digital tools. It is available to customers in California, Michigan, and North Carolina.

All of these virtual services will be available through Cigna’s outpatient behavioral health coverage, subject to benefit plan cost share.

COVID-19 resources for all communities

Cigna also is providing supportive resources for all customers, clients and communities for managing anxiety, fear, stress and improving resiliency during COVID-19. For more information, visit Cigna’s COVID-19 resource center.

About Cigna

Cigna Corporation is a global health service company with subsidiaries, including Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, Express Scripts companies or their affiliates, and Life Insurance Company of North America. To learn more about Cigna, visit

Victoria Harker

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