Some exchange plans offer free doctor visits to court consumers

A limited number of health plans offered on the insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act are offering free doctor visits.

Under those plans, individuals can see a primary care doctor in the plan's network without a copay, coinsurance or first paying off a deductible, according to Kaiser Health News.

Health insurers in several large cities are offering the benefit in response to reports that high copays and deductibles have discouraged many beneficiaries from using the insurance they signed up for on the exchanges, the report said.

Health plans with free doctor visits are being offered on exchanges in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and more than a dozen other markets, KHN says. While good news for consumers, the insurers hope this once-unheard-of benefit will ultimately save them money, as well. They hope the free visits will encourage members to see primary care physicians, who can catch illnesses before they become more difficult and expensive to treat, as well as cut down on the use of more expensive visits to urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

Two new insurers, Harken Health, an independently operated affiliate of UnitedHealthcare that operates in Chicago, and Zoom+, a Portland-based company, are offering unlimited free primary care visits at their company-owned clinics, the report says. Florida Blue is offering low-income members two free primary care visits each year with its plans in Miami-Dade and nine other counties. Molina Healthcare, based in California, is offering free primary care visits with some plans, but also free visits to specialists in Florida, Texas and five other states.

The free visits could set insurers apart in a crowded market and attract younger, healthier people. "This is a great development…and shows how the market is trying to innovate," Katherine Hempstead, director of coverage for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told KHN.

As FierceHealthPayer previously reported, insurers must be mindful of costs when designing plans for the exchanges because many customers are still burdened with the high expense of purchasing health insurance and paying out-of-pocket costs. One recent study found when employees were forced to switch to a plan with high deductibles and pay out-of-pocket costs, they cut back on healthcare services, including preventive care.

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