Cigna expands access to virtual care services available through MDLive

Cigna is expanding access to virtual care through its MDLive subsidiary, including the launch of a new virtual-first health plan pilot for select employers.

The insurer said the new programs are an early result of its acquisition of the telehealth company, which closed in April. MDLive is a part of Cigna's health services arm, Evernorth.

Beginning in January 2022, all members in Cigna's employer plans will have access to MDLive's network of virtual primary care providers, who can offer routine care, sick visits, prescription refills or followups for medical conditions that were not addressed during wellness visits.

Cigna will also expand access to digital dermatology care, behavioral healthcare and urgent care.

RELATED: Cigna, MDLive team up to offer virtual wellness exams

"The expansion here is building upon the success that we’ve seen," Shawna Dodds, vice president of product development at Cigna, told Fierce Healthcare. "It’s really part of a broader strategy that we have, which is about providing convenient access to affordable quality care."

The virtual-first plan, which will be piloted with certain eligible employers, and will offer $0 copayments for care provided by MDLive primary care providers, along with personalized care coordination services and no referral requirements for in-person care to network providers.

Cigna is the latest insurer to launch such a product, with competitors like UnitedHealthcare and Aetna offering plan designs built around virtual care or enhanced access to virtual solutions like primary care.

“At Cigna, we are constantly innovating our plan designs to meet the needs of our customers while continuing to make health care more affordable, predictable and simple,” said Heather Dlugolenski, senior vice president of solutions at Cigna, in a statement. “Expanding into virtual-first health plans is the next step in providing a convenient and comprehensive care experience.”

For example, offering virtual dermatology, Cigna said, can also cut down wait times significantly. The average wait time to see a dermatologist in person is more than 30 days, while members typically receive feedback from an MDLive clinician with 15 hours.

Prior to the acquisition, Cigna and MDLive partnered to launch virtual wellness exams. Dodds said that feedback from that experience played a role in how the insurer thought about this virtual care expansion.

For one, in two-thirds of those visits, an underlying condition was newly identified. However, most people who took advantage of the virtual wellness exams said they did not have a regular primary care provider—the virtual options are a way to get them in the door to primary care.

MDLive's providers will also be added to Cigna's value-based arrangements, which will allow for enhanced care coordination and a greater push for high-quality care, Dodds said.

"It allows us to sort of create that … connected ecosystem," she said.