Cigna To Offer Telehealth Coverage To Self-Insured

Cigna will offer MDLive service, which lets members request online video, telephone or e-mail consultations with doctors for non-urgent care needs such as colds and headaches.
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Cigna has become the latest national insurer to pitch telehealth to employers. Cigna, which has been using RelayHealth for "Web visits" since 2007, will start offering MDLive's telehealth service to its self-insured customers nationwide, starting July 1, for plans that become effective Jan. 1, 2014.

Cigna members in these self-insured plans will be able to request online video, telephone or e-mail consultations with primary care physicians for non-urgent care needs such as cold and flu, rashes, and headaches. MDLive doctors are available 24/7 and respond to requests within an average of 11 minutes, according to a news release.

Over the past few years, United Healthcare, WellPoint and Aetna have also embraced telehealth as a way to lower health costs and increase convenience for members. United's NowClinic offers telehealth consultations in 22 states. WellPoint recently began covering telehealth in California and Ohio, using the service of American Well, and Aetna is running a pilot with Teladoc in Texas and Florida.

[ More doctors are monitoring patients remotely. Read Telehealth To Grow Six-Fold By 2017. ]

Commenting on Cigna's deal with MDLive, Jackie Aube, the insurer's product development director, said in the press release, "MDLive's telehealth services enable our increasingly mobile and time-constrained customers to schedule a virtual consult with a board-certified physician and resolve a non-emergency medical issue in less than one hour. It's a cost-effective and convenient alternative to an office visit with your primary care physician."

The agreement with MDLive is similar to Cigna's coverage of its members' visits to retail clinics such as those of Walgreens and CVS, Cigna spokesman Joe Mondy told InformationWeek Healthcare. Cigna will continue offering the services of McKesson's RelayHealth, which enables patients to do online consultations with their own physicians, he added.

MDLive will be integrated directly into the insurer's consumer platform,, and will also be featured in Cigna's new mobile app, which helps members locate and select physicians and urgent care centers, Mondy said.

MDLive has always offered its customers -- mainly self-insured employers -- the ability to send summaries of telehealth encounters to their employees' primary care doctors, said Randy Parker, CEO of MDLive, in an interview. As part of the integration with Cigna, MDLive will now be able to transmit these documents to the patients' personal physicians via Cigna. This is similar to what Cigna does with some convenient care clinics, Mondy noted, adding that the clinical summary can go right into the doctor's electronic health record system.

If a patient doesn't have a primary care physician and needs a follow-up visit, MDLive will recommend one from Cigna's directory. Cigna itself does the same for patients who visit retail clinics and don't have their own doctor.

With its other customers, MDLive functions as a standalone service that the employers require their insurance company administrators to cover, Parker said. Cigna is the first plan that is providing MDLive to its eligible self-insured members. He sees this large-scale application of telehealth as a validation that "telehealth is now accepted for population health management."

Overall, he said, the announcement shows that "telehealth is no longer something that's just being piloted, it's something that's accepted as part of the way the healthcare of the future will have to work."

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