4 top insurers reimburse telehealth visits at lower rates

How much are your telehealth visits costing you? It could be more than you think, according to Forbes.

Forbes analyzed a recent study conducted by Fernando Wilson, PhD, a professor at Omaha-based University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health. Dr. Wilson's study, which was in a recent Health Care Cost Institute study, analyzed claims data from 2009 through 2013 from Aetna, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and United Healthcare.

Dr. Wilson found non-telehealth claims reimbursements increased from $57 to $61 over the four years. Telehealth claims reimbursements also rose between 2009 and 2011, increasing from $60 to $68. But in 2013, they suddenly dropped to $38.

For example, Dr. Wilson found a psychiatric diagnostic interview examination cost $200 if telehealth initiatives were used and $288 when the exam was conducted in person. But reimbursements were $105 for the live visit and only $77 for the telehealth visit.

Dr. Wilson proposed several causes behind the lower reimbursements for telehealth. "[G]iven our findings, many providers may have less incentive to invest in technologies that increase their cost of care even though they improve patient outcomes," he said, according to Forbes.

In addition, most "states don't specifically mandate that if you're going to provide telehealth coverage, that reimbursement should be the same," Dr. Wilson added, according to Forbes. "Maybe that's what's going on."

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