The Amerigroup Medicare Advantage Plans in Texas, a part of Anthem, is offering free telemedicine consultations to members during 2018, with physicians available 24 hours a day.

The insurer is using the telehealth technology of LiveHealth Online. Amerigroup members need an Internet-connected computer, web browser and a web camera to use the virtual services. Consultations also can be done via a free mobile app. LiveHealth Online uses U.S.-based board-certified doctors and licensed therapists to participate in the teleconsultations.

The insurer is offering the service to give members access to high-quality and affordable care, particularly for those it covers who may have difficulty being able to see a clinician in person, says Josh Martin, president of Amerigroup’s Medicare West Region.

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“While there is no cost to the member for the online visit, they are still responsible for any applicable prescription costs,” Martin says. “A summary of each visit can be forwarded to the patient’s primary care doctor with their permission, supporting continuity of care and collaboration among providers. Participants also can schedule online visits with a psychologist or licensed therapist.”

While the service in Texas begins on January 1, some members in other states have had free telemedicine access since 2015.

Since the initial rollout 2015 rollout, Amerigroup has seen adoption rates for telehealth quickly grow. While there were few visits in the first year, that now has changed, according to Martin, as utilization and adoption increased significantly during 2017. “This suggests that Medicare beneficiaries are receptive to accessing healthcare through digital technologies to complement the other methods they currently use.”

Most importantly, Martin adds, Amerigroup has learned that users of the program find it to be of real value. “Many individuals who used LiveHealth Online for minor urgent care issues have told us they would have gone to the emergency department if the service was not available,” he says. “So in these cases, LiveHealth Online helped avoid potentially costly, time-consuming and unnecessary emergency department visits.”

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