Telehealth service provider American Well has signed big contracts for online care with the likes of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Rite Aid, United Healthcare, WellPoint and various Blues plans, but two deals announced last week broke new ground for the Boston-based company.
"These are the first to embrace telehealth under the flag of improving [care] quality," American Well CEO Dr. Roy Schoenberg says of new partnerships with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, the largest private payers in their respective states.
In Louisiana, Blue Cross and Blue Shield will offer American Well to patients through the insurer's Quality Blue Primary Care program that focuses on quality improvement and population health management. Massachusetts Blues will pilot the service among certain, yet-to-be-announced hospitals and physician groups participating in Blue Cross Blue Shield's Alternative Quality Contract payment model.
American Well's Online Care offering lets patients set-up on demand, video-enabled visits with physicians via their computers or through an iPad, iPhone, or Android device.
"Both of them recognize that telehealth is a fundamental component of being able to pay for quality healthcare and quality outcomes," Schoenberg says.
The two insurance companies will deploy American Well's technology in slightly different ways, though there certainly will be some crossover. Massachusetts Blues is looking to offer more potential "touch points" between patients and physicians, especially for managing post-acute care, according to Schoenberg. Louisiana Blues hopes to increase access to care among its large, badly underserved rural population and better manage chronic diseases in a state where diabetes and obesity are rampant.
American Well's platform is "flexible enough for users to use as they see fit," according to Gregory LeGrow, director of Network Innovation at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and the insurer will allow providers to decide who they use the technology with, even patients not covered by a Blues plan. "Blue Cross members will have some preferential pricing," LeGrow tells MobiHealthNews.
Providers also will have the option of waiving fees for Blue Cross Blue Shield members, part of the payer's attempt to incentivize telehealth as an alternative to traditional office visits for routine care. "We really believe it's going to get the most value when we align the incentives among the providers, the patients and us, the payer," LeGrow says.
Schoenberg agrees. "Insurance companies are aligning incentives and giving docs the tools they need to carry out their activities," he says in a separate interview.
Announced last week at America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Exchange Conference in Las Vegas, the two programs will launch in the fall, according to Schoenberg. American Well also expects to name a third Blues plan in another state in a matter of days.
Massachusetts Blues will let its pilot run for about two years in order to give doctors and patients alike enough time to get comfortable with the technology that they generate sufficient data to evaluate the program, according to LeGrow. If it proves successful in reining in costs, providing wider access to care, improving the patient experience and, above all, producing better outcomes, the insurer will ramp up the program quickly. "That's our intention with all our pilots," LeGrow says.