BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members will have easier access to health care services moving forward as the state’s largest insurer makes permanent its coverage of virtual visits with in-network providers effective immediately.
The BlueCross decision makes it the first major insurer to embrace telehealth for the long-term after the dramatic expansion of these services during the COVID-19 pandemic, a move the company said aligns with other steps it has taken to improve access to primary care.
In March, the mission-driven insurer began covering telephone and video visits with in-network providers. The change initially included primary care providers, specialists and behavioral health providers and was later expanded to include occupational, physical and speech therapy as well as ABA therapy services. All of these services will now be covered on an ongoing basis.
“We’re committed to helping our members get the care they need, and telehealth offers them and the providers they trust with more options that fit their everyday needs,” said JD Hickey, president and CEO. “This recent period has proven virtual care can work for preventive, routine and maintenance care, and we’re making this decision because the added convenience can bring better health.”
BlueCross telehealth coverage includes both member-to-provider and provider-to-provider consultations, and it has seen health care providers across Tennessee demonstrate increasing support for these services. From March 16 to April 14, the insurer managed 71,000 telehealth claims for its members – 18 times more than the number of claims submitted during the same time period in 2019. Making telehealth benefits available on a permanent basis is another way to collaborate with in-network providers to make quality care more convenient.
The insurer has been investing to improve the care experience for its members for several years, with a focus on partnerships with in-network primary care providers.
BlueCross investments have included clinical quality programs and innovation grants to help practices improve the member experience, including telehealth services and enhanced digital tools. In February, the insurer announced a joint venture with Sanitas, a Keralty company, to open eight primary care medical centers in Middle and West Tennessee.
“We can’t fulfill our mission without clinicians,” said Hickey. “And we’re always looking for new ways to work together and bring better health to the people we serve together.”
The company has also supported telehealth in a variety of ways over the past several years, with a focus on rural access to care. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, BlueCross has expanded those efforts. The insurer made its own PhysicianNow virtual services available at no cost for many members through June 30. Those visits will continue to be available with regular cost-sharing, and many BlueCross members also continue to have free access to 24/7 Nurseline services.