May 14, 2020
After months of coronavirus pushing Tennesseans to visit their doctors over video chat, the largest insurer in the state will make telehealth services a permanent part of their coverage.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which covers about 70% of Tennessee’s private insurance market, is the first insurance company in the state to make the switch.
Abbey Dennis, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Insurance, confirmed that no other company plans to cover telehealth services at this level indefinitely, but said it possible this may change.
BlueCross began telehealth coverage in March as the growing coronavirus outbreak made it unwise for patients and medical providers to meet in person. Since then, BlueCross has managed 71,000 telehealth claims – 18 times more than the same time period last year – according to the company.
“This recent period has proven virtual care can work for preventive, routine and maintenance care, and we’re making this decision because the added convenience can bring better health,” said BlueCross president J.D. Hickey in a Thursday news release.
Telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, has been used amid the coronavirus epidemic to allow Tennesseans to see doctors as needed without face-to-face meetings that could spread the virus. Gov. Bill Lee used an executive order in March to waive state laws so all medical providers to use telehealth services. On Tuesday, Lee extended this order until June 30.
BlueCross telehealth coverage includes both phone calls and video conferences between patients and in-network health care providers and consultations between medical professionals. Initially, coverage only included primary care, specialists and behavioral health providers, but was expanded to include occupational, physical, speech and applied behavior analysis therapy.
All these telehealth services will now be covered on an “ongoing basis,” according to the news release. John Hawbaker, a spokesman for BlueCross, said in-person visits and telehealth visits will be covered at the same rate.
BlueCross said in the news release it is the “first major insurer to embrace telehealth for the long term.”