Cigna is poised to expand the telehealth services that it offers as a standard benefit for most of its employer-sponsored group plans and many of its marketplace health plans.
The insurer, which already offers telehealth services through MDLive, has agreed to terms with Boston-based American Well, giving members greater access to virtual visits with doctors to treat minor medical conditions like allergies and the flu, according to an announcement. Cigna also plans to add behavioral telehealth benefits, covering video consultations for the same out-of-pocket cost as a face-to-face office visit.
Noting that it can be difficult for Americans in rural areas to access behavioral health professionals, “telehealth provides an innovative solution to this accessibility challenge” said Robert Winjhoven, Cigna’s telehealth lead.
Partnering with telehealth providers can save up to $435 per virtual visit by reducing ER visits and primary care appointments. For its part, Cigna hopes the cost-saving potential of telehealth will attract cost-savvy Affordable Care Act plan enrollees, Winjhoven said.
Cigna’s deal with American Well is another notch in the telehealth provider’s belt, as it has also worked with fellow major insurers Anthem and UnitedHealth. Aetna and Oscar Health both use Teladoc’s services, FierceHealthPayer has reported.
Still, telehealth’s bright future will not be without obstacles, as regulation has hindered the progression of telehealth services. Awareness is also an issue: As John Jesser, vice president of Anthem’s LiveHealth Online service, previously told FierceHealthIT, for average American consumers, “seven out of 10 people probably still don’t know that this is even possible.”