Health Assurance

Investing in Ro

July 27, 2020
min read

There’s a lot that our healthcare system gets right. Due in part to groundbreaking therapeutic research, some pioneering governmental programs, and the dedication of our healthcare professionals, many of us can expect to live long, healthy lives. But that expectation of health and longevity is not enjoyed universally. Cost, availability, and access barriers to an already complex system has put high-quality care out of the reach of many in our society.  

These challenges are not insurmountable. There’s a new generation of companies that are fundamentally dedicated to transforming care through the paradigm of what we call “Health Assurance.” This approach creates consumer-centric experiences that maximize the humanity in care with innovations that allow physicians to practice more medicine at more affordable costs.

Health Assurance in Practice
In 2017, Peter Boyce II introduced GC to Zach, Saman and Rob and their vision for Ro. At that time, we hadn’t yet fully articulated our concept of Health Assurance. If we had, they would have met every requirement. At our first meeting, the team introduced their plan to marry telemedicine with a cash pay business model to create accessible and affordable care for routinely diagnosed problems with proven therapeutics. They’d start with erectile dysfunction, a condition that Zach had personal mission to destigmatize. ED is a disease with a high pain point that requires frequent interaction between a patient and provider. These regular interactions would over time give the company the opportunity to build trust and relationship with the patients in what was a relatively new consumer space.

Ro never intended for their ED product to be a “one and done” consumer offering. In just a short couple of years, they’ve built a unified system for addressing nearly 20 common health issues for men and women. They’ve done this by integrating a nationwide physician network with a nationwide pharmacy network so they can seamlessly diagnose, treat and support people in a high-quality, ongoing capacity.

One exciting area of care for Ro is metabolic health. Since expanding into the category in 2020, Ro has helped more than 160,000 toward their weight loss goals. In early 2023 Ro launched the Body Program, a comprehensive obesity care program that pairs the most clinically effective prescription obesity treatment, called GLP-1 medications (like Ozempic or Wegovy), with high-quality care (1-1 provider consultations, lab testing, nurse coaching, weight tracking, and 24/7 messaging) to help patients achieve their weight loss goals. The Body Program demonstrates Ro’s dedication to investing in the development of its platform and marks the company’s first offering to deliver complex, ongoing chronic care. 

Ultimately, the company’s ambition is to reframe the primary care experience and to become a person’s first call for all of their healthcare needs. As investors, we’ve backed and learned an incredible amount about the consumer health experience from companies like Livongo, Oscar Health, and Color. We believe there is a significant and timely need for what Ro is building today.

Investing in the Primary Care Experience
Studies suggest that quality primary care leads to better healthcare outcomes through earlier diagnosis of disease, better comorbidity management, and reduced hospital admission rates. Yet, primary care visits in the United States have fallen off by more than 25 percent in the last decade. This may be in part due to consumers yearning for a more convenient, substantive experience.

The average primary care appointment takes almost a month to secure and lasts all of 12 minutes. Doctors are often more focused during those appointments on billing codes and data entry than hands-on care, where their training and experience are most valuable. If this is an unsatisfactory experience for the patient, it may be even more so for physicians, nearly half of whom report feeling burned out by their work.

The primary care conundrum is exacerbated by a growing population but a shrinking doctor pool. Fewer than a quarter of new physicians are electing a primary care modality such as family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, or internal medicine.

Now for the good news. Entrepreneurs have backed away from the idea of disrupting healthcare and are instead partnering with healthcare professionals and hospital systems to create dynamic, personalized healthcare experiences that are accessible and affordable. For companies like Livongo and Mindstrong, that means leveraging AI and always-on care to better serve people living with chronic conditions. For Ro, it’s leveraging a consumer-first telemedicine platform that meets direct needs and a cash-pay system that is priced comparably to the average insurance co-pay.

Unlimited Potential
Until recently, healthcare in the United States seemed like it had grown into an intractable problem. But at GC, we’re optimistic that through technical innovations and the work of some incredibly talented people like Zach and the Ro team, there is the opportunity to not only solve healthcare’s challenges but to remake this entire industry into one that has the efficiency and acuity to create positive, society-wide benefits. We couldn’t be more impressed with what Ro has built to date and we’re happy to back them again today to have the opportunity to see all they accomplish next.  

— Peter Boyce II, Hemant Taneja, Adam Valkin and Team GC