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Anthem Launches DTC Telehealth Platform for Medi-Cal Members

Anthem Blue Cross is opening its LiveHealth Online direct-to-consumer telehealth platform to some 1.2 million members enrolled in California's Medicaid program.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- One of the nation’s largest Medicaid programs is launching a direct-to-consumer telehealth platform for its members.

Anthem Blue Cross announced this week that its 1.2 million Medicaid members in California’s Medi-Cal program will have access to connected health services – including telemental health and Spanish speaking providers – through the insurer’s LiveHealth Online program, which was built on American Well's platform.

“Extending Anthem’s LiveHealth Online platform to Anthem Blue Cross Medi-Cal consumers is another way we are making healthcare simpler and easier to access,” Dr. Barsam Kasravi, chief medical officer of the Anthem Blue Cross Medicaid Health Plan, said in a press release. “LiveHealth Online is a great option for people who may not be able to access healthcare services, whether it is because they need care after-hours, because they live in remote or rural areas, or if they simply do not have transportation to get to a doctor’s office.”

“Through LiveHealth Online, individuals and families can access professional healthcare services for non-emergency conditions within minutes, or they can schedule telehealth visits to address behavioral health needs,” he added. “This benefit can significantly improve access to care, including to behavioral healthcare, which has become critical in California.”

Medi-Cal serves families, seniors, people with disabilities, children in foster care, pregnant women and childless adults with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Those populations typically encounter significant barriers in accessing healthcare.

The new service, which gives members free, around-the-clock, video-based access via an mHealth app or online portal to board-certified doctors, licensed therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, continues a nationwide trend of Medicaid programs opening up to virtual care, especially for non-acute services that would otherwise push people to make unnecessary trips to the doctor or hospital ER.

Just two weeks ago, more than 40 health technology companies formed a non-profit coalition to lobby for more connected care in state Medicaid programs.

“Medicaid recipients and traditionally disadvantaged populations are often overlooked by new technology,” Leah Sparks, CEO of Wildflower Health, said in a press release announcing the launch of HealthTech4Medicaid (HT4M). “Our goal is to use technology innovation to reimagine how these patients are served.”

Roughly 40 percent of the nation’s Medicaid programs are taking a progressive approach to telehealth and telemedicine reimbursement, according to a state-by-state analysis earlier this year by the Manatt legal and consulting firm.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that telemedicine will be critical to delivering healthcare in the future, and state Medicaid policies are evolving – in some states more quickly than others – to accelerate adoption of telemedicine models,” the report, written by Manatt Health executives Jared Augenstein, Jacqueline D. Marks and Randi Seigel, states. “As technology advances and the evidence base for telemedicine expands, state policy will continue to evolve to integrate telemedicine into payment and delivery reforms that support overarching program objectives related to access, quality and cost of care.”

The inclusion of telemental health services is important. Two months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2861, which mandates that certified providers under the state’s Medi-Cal program “shall receive reimbursement for individual counseling services provided through telehealth, as defined in Section 2290.5 of the Business and Professions Code, by a licensed practitioner of the healing arts or a registered or certified alcohol or other drug counselor, when medically necessary and in accordance with the Medicaid state plan.”

More recently, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has floated a proposed list of changes to the Medi-Cal program that would clarify when services provided outside of the “four walls” of a federally qualified health center (FQHC) or rural health center (RHC) are eligible for reimbursement. Those proposed changes would open the door to more telehealth services for homeless, seasonal and migratory residents and provider-to-provider eConsult services.

In 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) extended the use of telehealth for face-to-face visits in home health services for Medicaid patients, a permission already grated to Medicare members.

According to the latest analysis of state Medicaid policies by the California-based Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP), all but one state now provider some sort of reimbursement for virtual visits in Medicaid fee-for-service programs.

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