Premera Blue Cross teams up with 98point6 to launch virtual primary care plan

virtual visit
Premera Blue Cross will offer a new virtual primary care plan this fall. (AndreyPopov/GettyImages)

Washington-based Premera Blue Cross is launching a new virtual primary care plan for employers.

Premera NOW will be available to the insurer's employer clients beginning in October. The plan, designed in partnership with telehealth company 98point6, will offer free virtual visits through the platform and a lower premium compared to a standard PPO plan, Premera said in an announcement.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that plan designs like Premera NOW are the way of the future, said Rick Abbott, vice president of product and market solutions for Premera, in a statement.

“The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that virtual care is here to stay. By providing convenient and affordable, on-demand access to health care, we have an opportunity to create an experience that truly puts the customer at the center of all we do," Abbott said. "With Premera NOW, we are making it easy to navigate the health care system of today and tomorrow."

RELATED: Payer experts: Why COVID-19 will 'fundamentally' change care delivery

Social distancing due to the pandemic has led to massive spikes in telehealth and virtual care use, a trend many payers expect to continue even as the country begins to reopen. CVS Health, for example, saw virtual visits through its MinuteClinics increase by 600% in the first quarter of the year thanks to COVID-19.

In March, Oscar Health's medical group saw 62% higher telehealth visits per 1,000 members than in March 2019. That's even as Oscar's business model is built around its technology-forward approach.

Premera NOW members can log in to the associated app and message securely with a 98point6 clinician. An automated assistant will triage a member's symptoms, and any photos if necessary, and send those to the physician.

The 98point6 doc will then review that information and make a diagnosis or referral as necessary.

Other insurers have designed similar plans. Humana, for example, teamed up with Doctor on Demand to launch On Hand, which offers a dedicated primary care physician and access to other care virtually with lower premiums.