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Blue Shield of California is eliminating all out-of-pocket (OOP) costs for members accessing virtual care via telehealth company Teladoc in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The payer is waiving fees for all members of its individual, family, and employer-sponsored plans — over 3 million members in total — through the end of May.
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As the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the US, insurers have been knocking down cost barriers to accessing virtual care — which could convince consumers to get on board with telehealth.
Blue Shield of California isn't the only US insurer removing OOP costs for telehealth: Aetna members won't have to open their wallets for Teladoc virtual visits, and other Blue Cross Blue Shield subsidiaries are doing away with copays for telehealth, too.
Insurers are making aggressive moves to boost telehealth access as government organizations continue to tout "social distancing" as the primary means of circumventing broader spread of the coronavirus — even if it means not scooping up copays usually attached to virtual consultations. And removing costs tied to virtual care could likely incentivize members to actually use telehealth, considering costs have been holding consumers back: About half of US adults say they'd be willing to virtually consult with a doctor if it generated cost savings.
And we think an uptick in virtual appointments will carry over once the pandemic dissipates. Teladoc has seen meteoric growth in recent weeks: It reported that last week, visit volume was up 50% from the week prior, with 15,000 visits requested daily. And the Consumer Technology Association's VP of Digital Health René Quashie told us that the small pool of consumers that do use telehealth are satisfied — it's convincing patients to give it a try in the first place that's the hard part.
So, the fact that patients may see virtual care as their only option in light of the coronavirus could give a sizable portion of patients the push they need to take the leap. And in a recent interview with the cofounders of telemedicine firm PlushCare, they told us they foresee the pandemic instigating wider adoption of the tech beyond the coronavirus.
Telehealth companies with large footprints that offer a range of virtual care services are in good shape to hook in customers now — and hang onto them later. Teladoc has cast a wide net across the provider space with the types of services it offers: It flaunts a pediatric-specific service as well as a behavioral healthcare unit, for example. This likely makes it a worthy partner for insurers — especially amid the coronavirus, when parents might not want to venture out to take sick kids to the doctor or patients are unable to get to a therapist's office to receive mental healthcare, respectively.
But Teladoc — and other vendors with strong presences in the telehealth market — will need to make sure they're adequately prepared for short- and long-term spikes. American Well and Express Care Online have been experiencing tech issues and crashes as demand increases, per CNBC, which may jeopardize their value in the eyes of consumers and healthcare partners.
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