After buying MDLive, Cigna will launch its own virtual-first health plan

telehealth, phone, telemedicine,

telehealth, phone, telemedicine,

Startups and insurers alike are jumping onto the virtual primary care bandwagon, with the idea of routing patients to virtual visits to reduce costs and build up a rapport with a primary care physician.

Cigna is the latest insurer to join the trend, announcing on Tuesday that it plans to offer a virtual-first health plan to select employers. It plans to pilot the concept with large, self-insured companies, before extending it to smaller clients and fully-insured businesses.

The plan would feature virtual visits with MDLive’s primary care providers for no copay, as well as help managing chronic conditions and care navigation.

Competitors UnitedHealthcare and Aetna have announced plans to roll  out their own renditions of virtual primary care plans. They also are dropping copays to steer patients to virtual visits with physician practices that they own. However, the plans differ slightly: While UnitedHealthcare will require a referral to see a specialist in-person, Cigna’s and Aetna’s virtual primary care plans do not.

A broader bet on telehealth
For the rest of its employer-sponsored plans, Cigna will offer telehealth visits through MDLive for routine care, prescription refills and follow-up visits, starting in January. It will also offer virtual visits with a dermatologist to people who access care through their employer or an ACA plan.

“Not only will this give more people an additional entry point to the healthcare system, but patients will be able to build lasting relationships with their preferred MDLive provider just as they would in a traditional office setting,” Cigna’s senior vice president of solutions, Heather Dlugolenski, said in a news release. “MDLive providers will also have access to comprehensive customer health information to track patient progress and better manage care. As necessary, MDLive will be able to refer our customers to high-performing in-network providers.

Cigna decided to do this after launching a virtual wellness program with MDLive in 2020, finding that more than three-fourths of people who did a virtual wellness screening last year did not have a primary care providers, and two-thirds identified a health condition as a result of the screening.

It also tapped MDLive to offer behavioral telehealth services shortly before the pandemic.

Cigna, which had been an investor in the telehealth company, moved to acquire MDLive earlier this year, incorporating it with its health services portfolio, Evernorth.

Photo credit: Anastasia Usenko, Getty Images

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