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Payers Are Embracing Telemedicine, Report Finds

July 16, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Health insurers are now letting millions of patients get seen online first in an effort to reduce unnecessary hospital visits and overall healthcare costs.

According to a recent Bloomberg report, WellPoint and Aetna, among other health insurers, are embracing the major expansion of telemedicine. This month, WellPoint started offering 4 million patients the ability to have e-visits with doctors, while Aetna says it will boost online access to 8 million people next year from 3 million now, the report said.

WellPoint started incorporating electronic visits as a benefit for more than 4 million members in 10 states in July and UnitedHealth Group (UNH), the largest healthcare insurer by market capitalization, began a pilot in January with 310,000 people in Nevada. Both companies also offer access to the American Well service for a flat fee.

The insurers are joining with companies such as Teladoc, MDLive and American Well Corp. that offer virtual visits with doctors who, in some states, can prescribe drugs for anything from sinus infections to back pain.

In June, the American Medical Association offered new guidelines to shape telemedicine’s development, saying that it's important for a valid patient-physician relationship to be established before the technology is used in practice.

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