UnitedHealthcare has expanded the availability of virtual care with local physicians for members enrolled in employer-sponsored plans, and also introduced a new Virtual Primary Care service designed to enable access to medical services in a simpler and more convenient way. Through both efforts, eligible members may be able to visit virtually with health care providers for various types of care, including wellness, routine and chronic condition management.
To help improve access to local care providers, UnitedHealthcare has updated a policy to help encourage the use of virtual care and enable eligible members to meet with their physicians virtually. Effective Jan. 1, the policy applies to fully insured and self-insured employer plans and will continue to reimburse local primary care physicians, specialists and select therapy providers for administering certain care through telehealth as an alternative to in-person visits.
The new Virtual Primary Care service, which is designed to make it easier for people to establish and maintain a relationship with a primary care physician, is currently available for members enrolled in certain employer-sponsored fully insured or self-funded health plans in 11 states. The service, offered in collaboration with a national telehealth provider group, is expected to be expanded to more states in 2021 and is part of a broader UnitedHealthcare effort to help enable members to use technology to access care.
These updates were unveiled this week during a virtual panel featuring an executive from UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) who talked about Virtual Primary Care at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2021, the annual technology conference.
“The UnitedHealthcare Virtual Primary Care service and updated policy helps expand the use of virtual care from delivering care to people who are sick, to now also focusing on preventing and detecting disease before it starts and, if needed, helping people more conveniently manage certain chronic conditions,” said Dr. Anne Docimo, chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare. “As more people and care providers move to a digital-first mindset, UnitedHealthcare will continue to modernize our approach to health benefits and invest in new ways to use technology to help make it more convenient for our members to access primary care and other types of medical services.”
The number of Americans with a primary care physician has declined recently, with an estimated 25% of people lacking this type of ongoing relationship with a care provider.1 Reversing that trend can be important given people with a relationship with a primary care physician may be more likely to receive high-value care services, such as preventive screenings, and report better care access and experiences compared to people without this type of care provider.2
According to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, one-quarter of respondents said they would actually prefer a virtual relationship with a primary care physician rather than in-person visits. Separately, some people who see a doctor virtually report no difference in the quality of the visit, compared to an in-person appointment; meanwhile another study found patients “vastly preferred” a virtual experience, due to the convenience and the elimination of travel time.
The Virtual Primary Care service enables eligible members to access primary care appointments with no or little cost-sharing (during the national public health emergency for COVID-19, member cost-sharing will continue to be waived for COVID-19 testing and testing-related visits). Through Virtual Primary Care, eligible members are able to access services such as:
- Annual wellness visits and appointments for minor ailments.
- Regular follow-ups and checkups for ongoing conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.
- Writing prescriptions*.
- Ordering lab tests and reviewing the results.
- Referrals to specialists.
Eligible UnitedHealthcare members in select markets have access to Virtual Primary Care and can use a mobile device or personal computer to receive care. Eligible members can check on myuhc.com to determine if this service is available to them.
Virtual Primary Care is currently available in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.
*Certain prescriptions may not be available, and other restrictions may apply.
UnitedHealthcare is dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and making the health system work better for everyone by simplifying the health care experience, meeting consumer health and wellness needs, and sustaining trusted relationships with care providers. In the United States, UnitedHealthcare offers the full spectrum of health benefit programs for individuals, employers, and Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, and contracts directly with more than 1.3 million physicians and care professionals, and 6,500 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. The company also provides health benefits and delivers care to people through owned and operated health care facilities in South America. UnitedHealthcare is one of the businesses of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a diversified health care company. For more information, visit UnitedHealthcare at www.uhc.com or follow @UHC on Twitter.
2 JAMA Network, 2019, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2721037