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The Power of Telemedicine

Multiple choice question… Jill and her husband Jack are both working from home and, in between conference calls and emails, trying to monitor their two kids' remote schooling and take their dog for an occasional walk. Jill suddenly starts developing a light cough and a scratch in her throat. She’s understandably concerned… could this be COVID-19? Jill should:

  1. Drive herself to a minute-clinic at the local pharmacy
  2. Drive herself to an urgent care center
  3. Drive herself to the nearest emergency room
  4. Call her telemedicine provider

You’re probably tempted to call me Captain Obvious about now. This is the question on a quiz you dreamed of when you were in school, right? Clearly, telemedicine is going to be the most convenient, fastest, and least expensive option. Jill can consult with a licensed physician without abandoning her husband (and kids and dog) for three hours; without leaving the comfort and safety of her home; in many cases, without even incurring out-of-pocket cost.

If it’s obvious to you and me, why are your employees not choosing telemedicine? Less than 10% of the population has ever used telemedicine, despite the convenience and cost-effectiveness.

As a former Communications major in college (just a few years ago, on top of a few years, on top of a few more years), the solution to the telemedicine under-utilization problem is obvious too… COMMUNICATION.

As usual, I’m over-simplifying just a bit, but the bottom line is this… Your employees aren’t using telemedicine because they don’t know how easy it is to use; they don’t know the value of telemedicine; they don’t know it’s safe and effective; worst case, they don’t know it’s available to them. Since most of your employees have limited opportunity or reason to use their telemedicine benefit, they need regular, almost constant reminders that their telemedicine benefit is there for them to use and it’s to their benefit to use it. They need constant reminders that telemedicine is convenient, clinically effective, and inexpensive. They need constant reminders that Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Centers are not for primary care.

So, how do you communicate with your employees? Whether it’s through your intranet site, a communication app like Teams, Slack, or Airbo, email, newsletters, team huddles, all-staff meetings, or all of the above, when was the last time your employee communications included information on the availability, ease of use, and value of their telemedicine benefit? Is there a poster in your break rooms? Are your managers and supervisors educated on telemedicine and talking about it in team huddles and meetings? Have you, as a leader in your organization, registered or even used your telemedicine benefit, and then shared your experience with your co-workers?

These are questions to ask even if we weren’t dealing with a pandemic. Telemedicine is a benefit to promote now and always. The more you can keep your employees out of an expensive healthcare facility filled with sick people, the better off they’ll be and the better your health insurance plan will perform.

So the message is, communicate… communicate… communicate. And if you really want to get creative, offer incentives for telemedicine registration and usage.

One last thing, as stated in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage, including grandfathered plans, shall provide coverage, with no cost-sharing. This includes the following items beginning on or after the date of enactment:

  • Items and services furnished to an individual during health care provider office visits (includes in-person and telehealth), urgent care center visits, and emergency room visits related to in vitro diagnosis.
  • Waiver of cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and office visits under Medicare and Medicare
    Advantage, Medicaid, CHIP, Tricare, coverage for veterans and federal civilians, and Indians covered through the Indian Health Services.
  • The rule applies to insured and self-insured plans.

To make it easier, we’ve compiled a few national carrier’s telemedicine information in the chart below.

Carrier Telemedicine Response to COVID-19
Aetna Until June 4, 2020, Aetna will waive member cost sharing for any covered telemedicine visits — regardless of diagnosis. For all Aetna plans offering Teladoc® coverage, cost sharing will be waived for all Teladoc® virtual visits. Cost sharing will also be waived for real-time virtual visits offered by in-network providers for all Commercial plan designs. Members may use telemedicine services for any reason, not just COVID-19 diagnosis. Self-insured plan sponsors will be able to opt-out of this program at their discretion.
Anthem Anthem's telehealth provider, LiveHealth Online LiveHealth is offered as a health plan benefit to many individual, employer-sponsored and Medicaid and Medicare members. LiveHealth Online is increasing physician availability to handle a potential increase in patients, while maintaining reasonable wait times.
Blue Cross Blue Shield BCBS will expand access to telehealth and nurse/provider hotlines by encouraging the use of virtual care and will also facilitate member access and use of nurse/provider hotlines.
CIGNA Cigna has waived customer cost-sharing for telehealth screenings for COVID-19 through May 31, 2020. Cigna has also opened a 24-hour toll-free help line (1-866-912-1687) to connect people directly with qualified clinicians who can provide support and guidance.
Harvard Pilgrim Telemedicine services, such as video visits with Doctor On Demand, are available to members on individual and group fully insured plans.
Humana Humana has trained a specialized group of call center employees to help support members with specific coronavirus questions and concerns, including live assistance with telemedicine. Members can call Humana’s toll-free customer support line, which can be found on the back of their member I.D. card, to be connected to this dedicated team of professionals.
Optima Health Optima Health will cover all telehealth visits in full if utilized with an in-network care provider visits through June 7, 2020.
United Healthcare United is expanding provider telehealth access and waiving member cost sharing for COVID-19 testing-related visits. Members will have access to telehealth services in two ways: Designated Telehealth Partners or Expanded Provider Telehealth Access. United Healthcare will waive member cost sharing for COVID-19 testing-related visits.

Before I go, you’ll be happy to know that Jill is fine. Her telemedicine doctor recommended Zyrtec. Jill is suffering from seasonal allergies exacerbated by a touch of work-from-home-itis.

To learn more about keeping your workforce healthy and safe during this pandemic, check out our Coronavirus Advisory Hub which is updated daily to include the latest information and resources employers need to help navigate these unprecedented times.

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