More Insurers Covering Telemedicine Services in Their Health Plans

May 5, 2015 in News

Health insurers increasingly are covering telemedicine services, but some experts say patient trust must be won before such services take off, Wired reports.

For example, UnitedHealthcare on Thursday announced it is partnering with three telemedicine firms — American Well, Doctor on Demand and NowClinic — to cover video-based physician visits at the same rate it covers in-person doctor visits. Through the partnership, the firms will connect some members with physicians via video conferencing technology. Each video visit generally costs patients between $40 and $50 out-of-pocket, but United members now will only have to pay their usual copayment costs for the visits. Other insurers also have started covering some telemedicine services, including:

  • Anthem;
  • BlueCross BlueShield Association; and
  • Oscar.

Benefits of Telehealth

According to Wired, insurers stand to gain from covering telehealth visits because they generally cost less than urgent care visits.

In addition, some experts attribute the increased use of telehealth services to Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, since they have enabled consumers to shop around for coverage options. Further, the law has increased the number of insured individuals and telehealth could help ease the patient load at hospitals and urgent care centers, allowing them to focus on patients who need in-person care.

Meanwhile, some observers have expressed concern that members might not trust telehealth services if they do not trust their insurers. However, others note that using such services is not mandatory and that consumers whose coverage does include telemedicine visits still have the option of receiving in-person care (Lapowsky, Wired, 4/30).

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