Anthem Blue Cross of California adds free telemedicine for its Medicaid members

Video visits will be available at no cost for urgent care and behavioral health services.
By Jonah Comstock
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Anthem's LiveHealth Online offering

Anthem Blue Cross of California has launched a new telehealth option for its 1.2 million Medicaid patients in California. These patients can access both urgent care and behavioral health visits through Anthem’s LiveHealth Online telehealth platform via smartphone, tablet or computer.

“We have members in rural counties that are looking at this very favorably,” Dr. Barsam Kasravi, chief medical officer of Anthem Blue Cross Medicaid Health Plan, told MobiHealthNews. “Many of them are driving significant distances for a visit. But even in our core counties, having an app as another option for urgent care or for behavioral health might help address some of the access issues and challenges that they face. Particularly because it’s at no cost to the Medi-Cal member, we are hoping that it just gives them another option of kind of meeting the members where they’re at.”

Through LiveHealth Online, powered by American Well, members can access telehealth urgent care 24-7 without an appointment. For psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists, users do have to make an appointment, but doctors are available on nights and weekends as well as during traditional business hours.

Kasravi said the next challenge will be making sure Medi-Cal members know the option is available to them, and they are working with county officials in California to market and promote the offering.

“Who will actually want to use it as an alternative to face-to-face care? It depends on that individual member and what their needs are,” he said. “But we are trying in various different ways to maximize this utilization because we think it’s a great option.”

Why it matters

California is one of the first states in which Anthem has extended its LiveHealth Online offering to a Medicaid population. The state’s large size and population make it both an important and an ambitious testbed.

There are also particular considerations in place for the California population. For instance, Medi-Cal members will also have access to Anthem’s Spanish language telemedicine offering Cuidado Medico.

And Anthem has been working with county officials in Butte County to provide telehealth options, including psychological support, to those affected by California fires. They have set up both a kiosk and a number of iPads and are providing services for free to both Anthem members and non-members. Kasravi says those patients are making use of about 15 virtual visits per day.

What’s the trend?

LiveHealth Online began offering doctor visits in 2012 via its website, and mobile access became available a year later. Anthem Blue Cross of California in particular has been on the forefront of telehealth innovation — for instance it was one of the first payers to reimburse for app-enabled house call offering Heal.

More generally, the outlook for Medicaid reimbursement of telehealth has been steadily improving over the years. CMS opened the door for such reimbursement with a 2016 rule. As of last spring, all but two states offered some kind of telemedicine reimbursement through Medicaid.

On the record

“Given the technology out there with Amazon and Uber and other options, I think healthcare needs to realize that the consumers are demanding flexibility with the healthcare that they’re wanting to receive,” Kasravi said. “We’re trying to expand that option for our members and really applying it to Medi-Cal members who might have specialized challenges.”

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