Pandemic waivers made it easier to get treatment for opioid addiction. That could all go away next month.
September 21, 2020
In the early months of 2020, Stephanie Strong had modest ambitions for her startup, Boulder Care, a telehealth company that treats people who are addicted to opioids. The company had begun seeing patients in October 2019, and, this year, if all went according to plan, Strong expected that Boulder would have a limited number of patients in Alaska, where the company had just struck a deal with Premera, the largest insurer in the Pacific Northwest.
This year, all has not gone according to plan. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the telehealth market exploded, thanks to a combination of stay-at-home orders and regulatory waivers that instantly boosted mainstream providers like Teladoc and Doctor on Demand. But for Boulder and the small cohort of startups like it, the public health emergency did more than just bring in more business. It opened the door to a previously unattainable type of care for people with opioid addiction that advocates and health care professionals have been championing for years.
Boulder treats patients through a combination of coaching and a drug called buprenorphine. In normal times, the law requires doctors to get preauthorized and meet with their patients in person before they can prescribe it. Strong and others argue those obstacles prevent people from getting care at the moment they need it, particularly in places where there aren’t many authorized physicians. “That critical moment where someone is really ready for care, that’s where we want to create that onramp,” Strong said.
But when COVID-19 hit, the government lifted the in-person visit requirement, meaning that now, Boulder can onboard patients fully remotely. The switch changed Boulder’s entire growth trajectory, enabling it to expand beyond a corner of the Alaskan market to all of Alaska, Oregon and Washington.