After three years of investing in digital health startups, A.G. Breitenstein decided to start her own focused on the LGBTQ community. Called FOLX, the direct-to-consumer health company launched on Thursday, with $4.4 million in seed funding from Define Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Polaris Partners.
Breitenstein has a long history in healthcare. She currently sits on the boards of several digital health companies. After she sold her previous analytics startup, Humedica, to Optum in 2013, she became a founding partner of Optum Ventures. Last summer, after leaving the company, she had an ‘aha’ moment.
“I had this idea out of the blue. I was watching Curology, Keeps and Hims and was very convinced that consumer digital care was a thing,” Breitenstein said.
It struck her that this model would be “so obviously a good fit for the queer and trans community,” who often experience discrimination and problems with access in healthcare.
Though current healthcare law bars discrimination on the basis of sex (which the Supreme Court upheld to include sexual orientation and gender identity), many LGBTQ patients still face a number of hoops to jump through to get care. People are misgendered, shuffled between providers, or sent off on “wild goose chases” to access gender-affirming hormone therapy, Breitenstein said.
She created FOLX to offer care around identity, sex and family. Currently, it offers hormone therapy, STI testing, PrEP and ED medications. It’s priced starting at a $59-per-month membership fee, which also includes at-home lab testing, home-delivered medications and follow-up visits. It currently does not take insurance — but instead sets cash prices around or below the average deductible or copay.
Even though FOLX takes a direct-to-consumer approach, Breitenstein emphasized that it’s not just an online pharmacy where you “…go online, click a few buttons, get a drug and then off to the races.”
For example, in the case of HRT, clinicians have a set schedule of check-ins with patients to talk about their goals and adjust dosage as needed.
Though visits are currently conducted through telehealth, in the future, Breitenstein also plans to open in-person clinics as FOLX expands into offering services for family creation.
“We all know there are queer and trans people all over the country,” she said. “Reaching as many of them as possible as quickly as possible is our first goal.”
A handful of other startups are putting technology to use to make LGBTQ-friendly providers easier to find. Denver-based Plume has built a digital health platform for the transgender community. And New York-based Queerly Health has built a marketplace to help patients find LGBTQ-competent practitioners.
Photo credit: FOLX