How a benefits navigation startup for LGBTQ employees won over big companies

Included Health, a startup that provides benefits navigation services for LGBTQ+ people, has quickly landed a number of big clients. In the two years since it was founded, it has added Walmart and State Farm as customers, and merged with larger healthcare navigation services company Grand Rounds.

The world of benefits navigation has quickly become concentrated, with a number of choices from Accolade to Grand Rounds to Castlight, but few health services are specifically tailored to LGBTQ+ people. Included Health CEO Colin Quinn sought out to change that when he co-founded the company in 2019.

Like many other founders, Quinn started the company based on his own personal experiences with a broken healthcare system.

“I’ve had my own struggles throughout my adult life as a gay man navigating the healthcare system, whether it’s difficulty finding a primary care doctor that fits my needs that I felt comfortable with, one that did not shame me for wanting to start on PrEP, to being denied services for strange reasons,” he said in a phone interview.

Every time he moved, he had to go through the same process over and over again, being uncertain if each new doctor would treat him with dignity and respect.

Not only does this discrimination put the onus on people to spend hours researching providers and advocating for themselves, but it can also lead to long-term health consequences.

Included health polled LGBTQ+ employees from Fortune 100 companies, and found that 40% of them said they had experienced discrimination in a healthcare setting, or had a negative experience. As a result, 35% were actively postponing or avoiding care.

These results were eye-opening for a lot of HR benefits leaders, Quinn said. Included Health was able to quickly bring on four clients through the Employer Health Innovation Roundtable (EHIR), a group of large businesses that pilot new benefits from startups.

“It’s a huge show and sign of support that these employers are saying, ‘there’s a real unmet need here,’” he said. “It’s further validation of what our solution and service does.”

Included Health connects people to affirming, in-network providers, makes personalized care recommendations, and advocates for its members. The company is led by 18 care coordinators and care navigators who vet providers and can help navigate people to covered services, including gender-affirming surgery or hormone replacement therapy.

It can also help LGBTQ+ people find options when many traditional benefits overlook their needs. For example, sometimes insurers require proof of infertility before covering fertility services, which can be a hindrance to people looking to start a family. Included Health might connect them to an adoption benefit or surrogacy agency, Quinn said.

In other cases, parents of LGBTQ+ youth have called the company, looking for advice on how to support their child and find an affirming pediatrician.

Even as more companies start to listen to their LGBTQ+ employees and take a second look at their benefits, there’s still a long way to go. In the last year, several states have proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation, including bills that would limit transgender people from accessing gender-affirming medical care and “religious refusal” bills that would allow businesses to deny services to LGBTQ+ people.

Included works with healthcare providers in those regions to ensure its members still have access to care and benefits.

“Even though we’ve made a lot of progress, we’re also taking a lot of steps backwards in a lot of states,” Quinn said. “We are there as the patient navigator, so it’s important for us to understand what are the implications of that legislation being passed, and answer any questions our members might have.”

For the longer term, Quinn’s goal is to quickly scale Included Health’s operations, and make its service available to as many people as possible. The company is also in early conversations with health insurers.

“We’re still in the early days of our existence,” he said. “I want to ensure everybody in the LGBTQ+ community has access, can see the providers they need to see, and has good quality healthcare outcomes.”


Photo credit: sasirin pamai, Getty Images