Independence Blue Cross to offer members MDLive, also reimburse remote visits with their own PCPs

By Jonah Comstock
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More and more health insurers are encouraging members to seek out video visits with physicians by subsidizing or outright covering such services. The latest to commit to the trend is Independence Blue Cross, which serves 2.5 million customers in the Philadelphia area and another 7.5 million across the country.

Independence will offer telemedicine to its members in two ways — both through a partnership with MDLive and through whatever telemedicine offerings their primary care physician provides. 

“Telemedicine is emerging as a consumer preferred channel and we’re pleased to offer our members the opportunity to take advantage of communicating more quickly and easily with their doctors through a secure video on their cell phone, iPad, or other digital device,” Daniel J. Hilferty, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, said in a statement. “These virtual visits won’t replace the important relationships our members have with their primary care physicians, but rather expand the options for access to convenient, timely health care, which also include our network of retail health clinics and urgent care centers.”

The MDLive option will be available to select members depending on the benefits offered by their employer. Offerings from members’ PCPs will be reimbursed provided they are (A) offered via HIPAA-secure video and (B) the medical issue isn’t an emergency. 

Also this week, Alabama news source AL.com did a report on Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama’s decision to offer reimbursement for video visits last December. They found that reimbursement has had a positive effect on uptake of remote visits in rural areas, but has also been rocky, due to unpaid claims and doctors who aren’t yet familiar with the technology.

Last year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced a pilot of American Well's video visit service. Over the course of the two-year pilot, providers will use WellConnection to conduct video visits with patients to address a variety of health issues that are ultimately up to the discretion of the participating physicians. Providers can use the offering to monitor a patient’s concussion recovery, offer wellness coaching, check the patient’s response to a medication, or monitor a patient’s recovery after they were hospitalized.

Also last year, UnitedHealthcare announced that it would cover a range of video visits from Doctor On Demand, American Well’s AmWell, and its own Optum’s NowClinic, which is a white-labeled American Well offering. The insurance company pointed out that the average price of a video visit is less than $50, and as part of its coverage for the service its members will still be responsible for a portion of that fee depending on the deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket expenses associated with their specific plan.

In September, Capital BlueCross, a Pennsylvania Blue, announced that starting in 2016, the company would offer telehealth services through American Well to members enrolled in most Capital BlueCross health plans. While American Well typically costs $49 per video visit, a Capital BlueCross spokesperson told MobiHealthNews that its members will pay a lower fee negotiated by the insurance company -- $39 per visit.

And around that same time, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota brought on San Francisco-based Doctor on Demand as the health insurer's new preferred telehealth provider. Starting in 2016, members of some of the insurer's plans have paid a reduced rate or no rate for Doctor on Demand's no-subscription video visit platform.