Health plans increasingly cover telemedicine services, despite low adoption

More employer health plans are offering telemedicine coverage, and employees are increasingly enrolling in plans that cover the service, according to new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In a corresponding brief to its 2018 Employer Health Benefit Survey, KFF analyzed medical claims from 2010 to 2016 that the foundation obtained from the Truven Health Analytics MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounters Database, which contains claims information from large employers through 2016.

Here are six highlights from KFF's brief:

1. Across all employers, 67 percent say telemedicine is offered under their health plan with the largest enrollment.

2. Of large employers offering health benefits, the share of firms that report their largest plan covers telemedicine has steadily increased each year from 27 percent in 2015 to 74 percent in 2018, according to KFF's analysis.

3. Large employers — those with 5,000 or more workers — are most likely to cover telemedicine (83 percent), compared with firms with 50 to 199 workers (65 percent).  

4. Twenty-six percent of firms offer enrollees an incentive to use telemedicine, up from 14 percent in 2016.

5. Among people with coverage from large employers, the number of telemedicine visits increased significantly from 2010 (24,000 visits) to 2016 (429,000 visits), according to Truven Health Analytics MarketScan.

6. Telemedicine adoption rates are low among both urban (0.52 percent) and rural (0.41 percent) enrollees in large employer health plans.

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