Is A Telehealth Plan Right For Me In 2021?

Is A Telehealth Plan Right For Me In 2021?

The following post was written and/or published as a collaboration between Benzinga’s in-house sponsored content team and a financial partner of Benzinga.

For many people, social distancing meant that 2020 was the first time they had a virtual visit with a healthcare professional. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, physicians saw between 50 and 175 times more patients via telehealth than they had prior to the pandemic. But now, as vaccines seem likely to dramatically strengthen our defenses against COVID-19, you may be wondering whether telehealth will be as essential in 2021. 

The government and healthcare industry certainly think telehealth is here to stay, and they are working towards expanding usage. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded telehealth coverage during the pandemic, and efforts to make those changes permanent have bipartisan support as well as backing from the healthcare industry. 

“We have moved forward a decade in the use of telemedicine in this country and it’s going to become, and will remain, an increasingly important part of physician practices going forward,” said Todd Askew, the American Medical Association’s (AMA) senior vice president of advocacy.

Telehealth in 2021 – What You Need to Know

Public health authorities are advising people that they will still need to wear masks and maintain social distancing for a while even after vaccinations. The current vaccines are intended to lessen the severity of an infection, not protect us from being infected – and we may be able to pass it on to others, even if you have few or no symptoms because of the vaccine. As we know, virtual healthcare is an important way of reducing the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states “Every day, patients get infections in healthcare facilities while they are being treated for something else. These infections can have devastating emotional, financial, and medical effects.” 

“Telehealth has additional advantages as well, including easy access to medical professionals, virtually no waiting time before you can see a doctor, and lower costs than you would typically pay for an in-person consultation,” says Jenn Stoll, chief commercial officer of DentalPlans.com, a leading online marketplace for dental savings plans in the U.S., and the Chairperson of the Consumer Health Alliance. 

Given all these factors, along with industry and government interest in strengthening and expanding virtual services, telehealth is likely to remain an important way to get healthcare through 2021 and beyond. Now is a good time to explore how you can access telehealth and reduce the costs of getting virtual care. Some telehealth memberships offer $0.00 consult fees and unlimited virtual doctor’s visits 24/7 after joining.

How Does Telehealth Work? 

Some may wonder whether medical professionals can really correctly diagnose a disease or medical condition over the phone or via video chat. Doctors think so. In a pre-pandemic survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians, 78% believed the use of telemedicine improved the quality of healthcare and made healthcare easier to access. A more recent roundup of doctor’s opinions shows that medical professionals believe that telehealth has proven to deliver advantages and efficiencies to patients.

Virtual doctor visits aren’t much different than the traditional doctor consultation. Instead of seeing a medical professional in person, you have a video consultation using a telemedicine service’s website or an app on your mobile device. You tell the doctor about your symptoms, answer their questions, and ask about anything you don’t understand. The doctor diagnoses your issue and discusses treatment options with you. If the doctor determines that medication is needed, they can call in a prescription to the pharmacy of your choice. Don’t care for video? Some doctors are okay with a traditional phone call.

And who are the doctors? When you request an appointment, you will be asked about your current health concerns. The telehealth service will then match your healthcare need with an appropriately credentialed medical professional who is licensed to practice in your state. If you are traveling, you’ll be connected with a doctor who practices in that state. Outside of the U.S., telehealth services are typically not provided by a U.S. plan’s in-network providers. Check your plan’s documentation for details.

What Can Telehealth Help Me With?

While telehealth is not suitable for every single medical issue, it has proved effective in treating everyday ailments like viral infections, stomach upsets, sinus, bladder, and ear infections, allergies, rashes, and similar illnesses. And during outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as influenza, doctors and local or federal health agencies often request that you use telemedicine rather than coming into an office, urgent care clinic, or emergency room if you don’t have to do so. 

Of course, if you need hands-on help – such as x-rays, diagnostic testing, or wound treatment, you should go to a doctor’s office or urgent care clinic. And if you are experiencing a health emergency, such as shortness of breath, severe pain, persistent chest pain (especially if it radiates to your arm or jaw or is accompanied by sweating, vomiting, or shortness of breath) bleeding you can’t control, a temperature over 102, sudden difficulties in speaking/understanding speech and confusion, or fainting – you should always head to the emergency room ASAP. 

How Do I Access Telehealth Services?

Your health insurance may include access to a telehealth service. If it does, you can typically access virtual care through the in-network provider for telehealth – often a nationwide service. Check your plan documentation for details. There is often a co-pay for virtual visits, though some healthcare providers have reduced or waived payments for telehealth during the pandemic. This may change during 2021, so it’s important to check with your insurance provider to ensure you are still covered for telehealth, and what you are responsible for paying out of pocket.

“If you have a set doctor you typically see and have built a relationship with, you may be thinking telehealth isn’t for you,” said Stoll. “but many telehealth provider services aim to support, rather than replace, your relationship with your personal physician.”

While some telehealth services do not accept patients without insurance, there are a few that let you book one-time visits online. The downside is that you typically pay the full cost out of pocket.

Another alternative, if your insurance does not include telehealth, is joining a telehealth savings plan. The discounts you access through these plans can be significant – some plans, like the telehealth plans through DentalPlans.com, even offer $0.00 consult fees and unlimited virtual doctor’s visits 24/7.

How Much Does Telehealth Care Cost?

Telemedicine is significantly less expensive than a visit to the emergency room (average cost is $1,354), an urgent care center (average cost is $150), or a private in-person physician (cost about $125). Of course, these fees vary depending on your insurance and location. In big cities, costs are often higher.

A telemedicine consultation is typically $75 without insurance, and about $50 with healthcare coverage (out of pocket costs vary, dependent on your health insurance). Some health insurance plans may provide low-cost telehealth care, or limited visits at no cost. Others may waive costs during public health emergencies. 

Telehealth savings plans such as DP HealthNow, DP CompleteCare and DP SmartHealth include 24/7 access to state-licensed doctors with no consult fee, as part of their savings bundle. Learn more about those here. With other plans, the costs are comparable to insurance copays. Additionally, many telehealth plans include added savings on dental, vision and hearing care, as well as prescriptions and other healthcare services. 

Before You Purchase a Telehealth Plan

When telehealth demand soared in 2020, so did brand new telehealth plans and service offerings. To ensure you’re joining a reliable plan that is right for you, check: 

  1. The history of the company selling the plan. Have they been in business for more than a year? What types of reviews do they have online?
  2. What telehealth provider accepts the plan? Check the provider’s reviews and history too. 
  3. What healthcare professionals work with the telehealth provider? Look for information on how the telehealth company verifies healthcare professionals’ credentials. 
  4. Ask your doctor for telehealth service recommendations or use an online marketplace like DentalPlans.com to compare a variety of plans, prices, and features. 

“We’ve seen how quickly the healthcare industry can adapt and find innovative ways to deliver care in 2020,” said Stoll. “I believe 2021 is going to bring continued growth in telehealth, and we are excited to be doing our part to help make virtual healthcare more accessible, convenient and affordable for everyone.”

The preceding post was written and/or published as a collaboration between Benzinga’s in-house sponsored content team and a financial partner of Benzinga. Although the piece is not and should not be construed as editorial content, the sponsored content team works to ensure that any and all information contained within is true and accurate to the best of their knowledge and research. This content is for informational purposes only and not intended to be investing advice.

Posted In: Health CareGeneral