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$0 virtual visits could win the hearts of consumers

The news: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is teaming up with two primary care startups—Carbon Health and Firefly Health—to launch a virtual primary care service that will be made available to most commercial plan members at no cost starting Jan 1, 2023.

Here’s how it works: Eligible Blue Cross MA members can choose their virtual primary care provider (PCP) through either Carbon or Firefly.

The service comes with a host of benefits, namely:

  1. $0 cost sharing for primary care and mental health virtual visits. Members need to designate a virtual care team provider as their PCP to receive this benefit. Certain members will also have to meet their deductible for the no-cost telehealth option to kick in.
  2. Personalized care plans. A patient-specific care plan incorporates personalized coaching tailored to the person’s needs, and medical devices such as blood pressure cuffs are shipped to the member’s home if deemed appropriate.
  3. Hybrid care. The service also includes access to in-person care with in-network providers if needed.

It’s exclusive, and that’s a big win: Under this specific offering, Carbon and Firefly are betting that once they’re selected as a member’s PCP, they’ll capture patients for the long haul when they need more comprehensive care.

Zooming out: Virtual-first health plans are a potential win-win for the consumer and the healthcare organization for a few reasons.

  1. Patients have more control over when and where they receive care. Plus, co-pays and cost-sharing are commonly waived for enrollees.
  2. The health plan can manage costs and steer patients away from expensive services when appropriate.

That’s why prominent health insurers like UnitedHealthcare, CVS Health/Aetna, and Cigna launched virtual-first primary care plans, capitalizing on the surge of telehealth utilization during the pandemic.

  • US consumers—particularly younger generations such as Gen Z—cite convenience and cost as top reasons for using telehealth services, per Insider Intelligence’s Telehealth Trends 2022 survey.
  • Blue Cross MA members wanting to access more affordable healthcare could be drawn to this plan. For example, outside of this tie-up, Carbon doesn’t accept insurance for its mental health services, meaning patients are on the hook for $99 per visit.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Digital Health Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the healthcare industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.