Health Care

Cigna leans on MDLive for new virtual-first plan

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Cigna launched a virtual-first plan for select employers on Tuesday, with its new offering following the recent announcements of other major insurers and coming just in time for open enrollment.

Like UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and Centene, Cigna’s new virtual-first plan offers a $0 copay, and will start in January 2022. Cigna will offer virtual-first primary, dermatology, behavioral and urgent care services for employers, and digital dermatology to its exchange members. Although the new virtual-first plan will only be available for certain employers, all business customers will have access to MDLive’s network of more than 2,000 virtual clinicians for wellness checks, prescription refills and emergency care.

The company built the new plan on the MDLive platform and the startup’s physicians will join Cigna’s group of collaborative care providers. Cigna paid an undisclosed sum to acquire MDLive in February, and folded the company into its Evernorth health services division.

The insurer did not respond to a request about the size and type of employers it was targeting through the new virtual-first plan. Eighty-five percent of Cigna’s commercial customers are self-funded employers and the insurer already relies on MDLive to power some of the telehealth visits for these customers.

In addition to providing the virtual-first infrastructure, Cigna is leaning on MDLive to beef up its primary care practice and cut wait times for patients. The insurer said that more than 75% of members who had an MDLive virtual wellness screening in 2020 did not have a primary care provider and two-thirds identified a new health condition during their digital visit.

By increasing access and shifting the cost of care to lower-cost settings, Cigna aims to save on health costs for itself and its members, while offering a more personalized care experience.

“With MDLIVE now part of Evernorth, we’ve fast-tracked our ability to offer a broader suite of differentiated, future-state care solutions that make the patient experience easier and more convenient,” Eric Palmer, president of Evernorth, said in a news release. “Today’s announcement represents a significant step forward for millions of health plan customers who will gain on-demand access to a wider range of highly-specialized, in-network health care professionals.”

The news builds on MDLive’s existing virtual primary care services, which it launched as an initiative for health plans and employers in 2020. That year, MDLive’s total membership grew 57% and the company recorded an 84% increase in the number of visits across its provider network.

The startup had teased that it planned to go public sometime in 2021, following the moves of competitors like Teladoc and Amwell. Cigna did not respond to plans about an IPO for MDLive. The startup has raised nearly $199 million in funding, with the insurer’s venture arm serving as a leading investor.

It’s not the only telehealth company that has raised venture investment recently.

During the first three quarters of 2021, telehealth startups generated $6.6 billion in venture funds, according to Digital Health Business & Technology.

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