In partnership with Accolade and TeleMed2U, Blue Shield of California released its Virtual Blue health benefits plan on Monday. The plan, effective April 1, gives members access to virtual primary, behavioral and specialty care, in addition to in-person care.
“What we’ve done is tie a really robust virtual care offering to our tandem [preferred provider organization] network, which is a personal network that spans the entire state of California,” said Dr. Nina Birnbaum, Medical Director of Accelerating Payer Innovation. “So people can easily access virtual care through our virtual care partners for these benefits in primary care, specialty care and mental health… If they want or need at any time to be seen in person, they have access to our team and PPO network across the state.”
Virtual Blue includes $0 out-of-pocket costs for virtual services. Offers primary care in pediatrics, family medicine and internal medicine through Recognition. In Accolade’s primary care model, physicians work with health coaches, care coordinators and nurses to deliver care. Members can choose a primary care physician based on gender, race, experience and language.
The plan also provides special care for 20 types of specialties through TeleMed2U. Types of specialties include endocrinology and cardiology. In addition, Virtual Blue offers mental health care for members age four and older, as well as 24/7 urgent care. For those who want to see a provider in person, they also have access to Blue Shield of California’s preferred network of provider organizations for personal care.
When members sign up for Virtual Blue, they receive a vital signs kit that includes a scale, thermometer and blood pressure cuff.
“[The vitals kit] assures our virtual providers that they can provide full-scale care,” said Birnbaum. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, hold your camera to your eye. Let me see if you have pink eye. It’s really, “Let me check your key health indicators, your blood pressure, your weight, your body mass index so I can help you make the right decision.”
Virtual Blue was created after seeing interest in virtual care among patients and providers during the Covid-19 pandemic, Birnbaum added. She expects the health plan to benefit a wide range of the population, including children, young people, the elderly and those living in rural communities.
“I think the pandemic really showed us by necessity that doctors and patients are willing, ready and able to use virtual care for a lot more than maybe we actually thought they would,” Birnbaum said.
Blue Shield of California hopes to expand access to health care by offering Virtual Blue, Birnbaum said.
“Our ultimate goal is to really increase access for everyone… It’s not just pure convenience. “Oh, I can make an appointment right away or in five minutes or in half an hour.” It’s “I can make an appointment with someone who knows me, who can see my medical record, who can help me do judgment of what is right for me’. We think this kind of access will pay dividends for these people in terms of really improving their health.
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