- CVS Health said its Aetna unit will offer virtual primary care to self-funded employers nationwide in a move that underscores the growing popularity of telehealth services fueled by the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Using Teladoc Health's physician-led care team model, the Aetna Virtual Primary Care service is intended to help strengthen the patient-doctor relationship and improve access to care, the vertically integrated company announced Tuesday. Members can receive health services remotely and in person.
- The initiative follows Amazon's nationwide rollout in March of its virtual care pilot program, Amazon Care, offering free telehealth consults and in-home visits for a fee to employees and their families. Amazon will also offer on-demand primary care services to other companies in Washington state.
The pandemic has shown that telehealth can be a viable long-term option for consumers. A recent survey by Social Sciences Research Solutions for the Bipartisan Policy Center, for example, found 90% of patients were satisfied with their telehealth care and would use the service again, with 80% saying their medical issue was resolved as a result of the virtual visit.
Telehealth use declined as patients ventured back into doctor offices in recent months amid tapering COVID-19 case numbers, but virtual visits appear to have steadied in May, according to Fair Health's monthly telehealth regional tracker. Utilization, measured as a percentage of all medical claim lines, climbed 2% from April to May among privately insured people. Telehealth claim lines as a percentage of medical claim lines rose 5.6% in the South and 4.8% in the West.
With COVID-19's rapid reemergance in communities across the United States, already straining hospital capacity in some Southern states, Aetna's telehealth initiative appears well-timed. "The future of digital health solutions is rapidly unfolding," Aetna President Dan Finke said in a statement.
The program combines telehealth services and access to in-person visits with providers in the CVS Health-Aetna network, including MinuteClinic and HealthHUB locations. There is no co-pay for virtual primary care visits and some in-person services after deductibles are met.
Members can maintain a continuous relationship with a primary care physician and have access to a team of specialists based on their health needs. No referral is needed for in-person visits with providers in the network. Existing Aetna virtual care services including mental health counseling, dermatology and round-the-clock urgent care are included in the benefit, as is virtual access to a nurse support team.
The telehealth boom has fueled a burst of M&A activity, some of it involving payers. Earlier this year, Cigna's Evernorth health services business acquired telehealth provider MDLive for an undisclosed sum. The insurer plans to sell MDLive's telehealth offerings to third-party clients and offer it to beneficiaries. Teladoc itself paid $18.5 billion last year to buy chronic care manager Livongo.
Aetna's new virtual primary care offering looks to be following the path of Amazon Care, which will be available to outside companies in direct competition with virtual care giants such as Teladoc, Amwell and Doctor on Demand.
Teladoc hinted at its primary care deal with Aetna when it released better-than-expected second-quarter earnings in July. The company is looking for ways to keep the momentum going after benefiting from surging volumes during the pandemic lockdowns.