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    Five ways health plans can encourage telemedicine use

    The importance of telemedicine and for members to be digitally connected to their health plans has gained even more prominence in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

    However, a recent HealthMine survey showed that 57% of Medicare health plan members older than age 65 are unsure if their health plan offers telemedicine; another 31% say that telemedicine is not offered by their plan. The data comes from a HealthMine survey of 500 Medicare health consumers.

    The survey queried 500 insured consumers older than age 65 who were enrolled in a Medicare program in June/July 2017.

    The pros and cons of expanding coverage of telehealth and telemedicine services under Medicare Parts A and B has been debated by Congress' Medicare payment advisors. Some advisers saying more outcomes data are needed. Under the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress mandated that the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission study the potential for expanded use of telehealth services and report its findings by March 15, 2018.

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    The survey also showed that 79% of seniors do not have easy access to their electronic health records. According to Bryce Williams, president and CEO of HealthMine, “Our survey shows that Medicare plan members have communication preferences: 48% prefer to communicate with their plan via voice/phone, 31% prefer digital communication, and 21% prefer regular mail.”

    “Telemedicine can help keep the premiums for health plans competitive,” says Allan Khoury, MD, a senior health management consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

    Khoury suggests five ways plans can encourage use of telemedicine: 

    1.   Decrease copayments for telemedicine care.

    2.   Pay for virtual provider to provider consultations.

    3.   Pay for virtual consultations by health system providers with members.

    4.   Make available 24/7 care by a national telemedicine vendor.

    5.   Create an aggressive communication plan to teach members about the telemedicine benefit.

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