UnitedHealthcare today is announcing a partnership with three telemedicine companies to cover video-based doctor visits just as it covers in-person visits. The tech set has for decades predicted that we would one day get our medical care via video chat, but it wasn't until recently that forward-thinking physicians started taking the promise of telemedicine seriously. The decision by so influential a player in the healthcare industry to telemedicine is the strongest sign yet that the technology is entering the mainstream.
United says it will cover virtual doctor visits offered through NowClinic, Doctor on Demand, and American Well. These platforms connect patients with thousands of doctors—albeit not the patient's usual doctor—via video chat. These consultations typically cost $40 to $50 a pop, but now that United is covering these visits, members will only have to pay their usual co-pay, making virtual medicine much more affordable for more people. For now, these virtual visits will be available only to UnitedHealth's self-funded customers, but the feature will expand to most members by next year.