Meditation app Calm is now free for Kaiser Permanente's millions of members

Key Points
  • Kaiser Permanente is offering Calm's service, normally $70 a year, for free to all of its members.
  • The hospital system has been using Calm in a clinical setting for about two years, said Dr. Don Mordecai, a psychiatrist and Kaiser's national leader for mental health and wellness.
  • Calm rival Headspace signed a deal last month to offer its service for free to all New Yorkers.
Calm co-founders Michael Acton Smith and Alex Tew
Source: Calm

Kaiser Permanente is trying to give its 12.4 million members a little bit of calm.

Starting Tuesday, the health-care provider is allowing patients to download the Calm mediation app for free as part of a way to help customers manage anxiety as they deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Calm is the most-popular health and fitness app on Google-powered devices and No. 2 on the iPhone, according to App Annie. Paid subscriptions normally cost $70 a year.

Kaiser, which provides its members a combination of medical care and insurance, said that Kaiser Family Foundation recently ran a survey of adults and found that a majority are reporting health issues related to Covid-19, "resulting in problems sleeping or eating, or increased alcohol or drug use." In March, Kaiser began offering free access to the myStrength app, which includes meditation, programs for managing depression and stress and ways to set and track goals.

Calm was seeing surging growth even before the coronavirus forced Americans to shelter in place and led to skyrocketing unemployment. The San Francisco-based start-up was valued by investors last year at $1 billion, two years after being named Apple's app of the year back in 2017. The app has been downloaded over 80 million times. 

Now, it has a whole new set of users, who are counting on the service for meditative sounds and practices as well as sleep stories from the voices of people like actor Matthew McConaughey.

Calm isn't alone in the market. Rival Headspace announced a deal last month with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to offer "free meditation and mindfulness content for all New Yorkers as a mental health resource for residents coping with the unprecedented public health crisis facing the state and the nation," according to a statement at the time.

Dr. Don Mordecai, a psychiatrist and Kaiser's national leader for mental health and wellness, said the hospital, which operates in eight regions across the country, has been using Calm for about two years in a clinical setting to help patients. Now it's expanding the service to all of its members, who just need to sign up for it on the Kaiser website and can then download the app at no cost.

"Anecdotally, the patients we've referred to Calm really like it," Dr. Mordecai said, in an interview. "We've been quite interested in the potential to use digital apps, and we're talking high-quality apps, and to see how those can get built into a treatment system like ours."

Neither Kaiser nor Calm would disclose terms of the deal.

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