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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee to Cover Virtual Visits Permanently

Analysis  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   May 21, 2020

From March 16-April 14 the insurer managed 18 times more telehealth claims than during the same time period in 2019.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee says it will permanently cover virtual visits with in-network providers effective immediately.

The telehealth coverage includes both member-to-provider and provider-to-provider consultations. From March 16-April 14 it managed 71,000 telehealth claims for its members, which was 18 times more than the number of claims submitted during the same time period in 2019.

Telehealth is booming elsewhere, too. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts said on May 21 that it has processed more than 1 million telehealth claims in the nine weeks since changing its policy to expand coverage for telephone and virtual visits at no cost to members during the COVID-19 crisis.

In February 2020, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts received approximately 200 telehealth claims per day; that's compared to today when it's receiving more than 38,000 per day. Blue Cross is reimbursing telehealth services at the same rate as in-person visits for the duration of the Massachusetts public health emergency.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts also said that nearly half the telehealth visits since the crisis began have been for mental health services, including psychotherapy.

According to a Guidehouse analysis of a survey conducted by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) nearly 70% of executives said their organizations will be using telehealth "at least five times more" than before the pandemic, though 33% said their organizations have "all needed telehealth capabilities."

Coverage for other kinds of alternative visits is increasing, too. In late April CMS said it will bump up payments for audio-only telephone consultations to match payments made for office and outpatients visits.

The new rule would increase payments for audio-only telephone consultations from $14-$41 to about $46-$110, CMS said in a media release.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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