What UnitedHealth Group, Humana, Anthem and Cigna execs are saying about telehealth

When the pandemic began, insurance companies acted quickly to ensure members had access to telehealth services.

Some waived fees while others changed their policies to cover more services virtually and pay in-office rates for telehealth visits. In some cases, those benefits are set to expire while other changes have become permanent. In earnings calls in the last few months, executives from four of the nation's largest insurance companies discussed how their telehealth policies changed and hinted at what to expect in the future.

UnitedHealth Group: Early on in the pandemic, UnitedHealth Group equipped physicians within its subsidiary, Optum, to deliver care virtually. The company enabled direct connection between patients and their physicians that UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann believes would extend well beyond the pandemic. "So far this year, OptumCare physicians have facilitated 1 million digital clinical visits directly with their patients, and we are rapidly developing a proprietary set of distinctive tools and aligning our clinical practices to further develop and amplify this capability," he said during the company's third-quarter earnings call Oct. 14, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. "I am sure you can see how advancing modern telehealth fits into our overall strategy to build high-performing systems of care."

Humana: Humana pivoted during the pandemic to allow network providers to use personal devices for telehealth and paid in-office rates for the visits. The company also established clinical outreach teams to engage with vulnerable members and waived copays for primary care, behavioral health and telehealth services for members. "As we reenter a normal environment, we will get the payment models to ensure that we are encouraging an omnichannel approach where it's appropriate to use the office when needed [and] telehealth when it's needed," said Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard during the company's second-quarter earnings call Aug. 5, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha.

Mr. Broussard added that telemedicine visits were up 15 to 20 times year-over-year. At Humana clinics, telehealth peaked at 80 percent to 90 percent of visits at the height of the pandemic and then dropped to 20 percent to 30 percent as time went on. "I think particularly for seniors, there's a real desire to be social and meet with others and meet with their doctor in person," said Mr. Broussard. "We don't think that's going to change, but we do think telehealth is a critical supplement to the general care program that we think will really take hold going forward."

Anthem: Anthem had facilitated 475,000 telehealth visits and 82,000 COVID-19 assessments as of July 29, and member care visits were up 300 percent over pre-pandemic levels, President and CEO Gail Boudreaux said during its second-quarter earnings call July 29, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. The company's on-demand telehealth solution surpassed 1 million visits in April, with a particular demand for behavioral health services. "Telehealth is clearly here to stay, and it's really helping us find the right setting [for care]," said John Gallina, CFO of Anthem, during the call. "It's really all about getting the right care at the right time in the right place for our members, and how we're utilizing the various virtual engagements in the digital-type capabilities that we've been creating."

Cigna: Cigna initially partnered with telehealth company MDLive in 2013 for employer-sponsored health plans and expanded its partnership to grant access to primary care physicians in January, prior to the pandemic. After the pandemic hit, the payer worked with physicians, Medicare Advantage and others to expand telehealth access. During the company's second-quarter conference call July 30, Cigna President and CEO David Cordani said he believes a "meaningful amount of care" will be delivered virtually in the future, which will include in-home care enabled by technology. "We believe that the rate and pace of adoption and acceleration of reformatting care access, utilizing technology to coordinate care and deliver care in a personalized high-quality basis, and then augmenting it with reenvisioning what could take place in the home is mission critical and accelerated by COVID," he said, as transcribed by Seeking Alpha. "That's on strategy for us, and we are aggressively investing in and innovating in those categories off a variety of platforms."

More articles on telehealth:
Only 20% of health systems would continue telehealth if reimbursements return to pre-COVID-19 levels
American Telemedicine Association launches safety evaluation tool for digital health apps
Blue Cross Blue Shield covers telemedicine permanently for federal workforce program 

 

 

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