Telehealth and virtual care services have grown rapidly the in last few years, expanding access to care for millions of Americans. Virtual care can be a cost-effective option for a range of healthcare services, including preventative care, primary care, and behavioral health. Telehealth appointments are also more convenient for patients who do not seek care because of scheduling conflicts or location.  

Ninety-six percent of large companies currently cover some form of telemedicine. Studies show telehealth services are more convenient and less expensive for employees and their employers. Employers who include virtual care and telehealth providers in their benefit plan increase access and decrease costs for their employees. But some virtual services can come with unexpected costs. It’s important to educate your employees on the fees they could be responsible for when seeking virtual care.   

Charges for Patient Portal Messages to Providers 

The ability to send messages to providers via patient portals has allowed patients to ask their providers questions about a health condition or prescription medication without needing to schedule an office visit. This has reduced out-of-pocket costs for patients and increased convenience. With messaging, patients don’t need to pay for an office visit or commute to an appointment and wait to see their provider. 

The number of portal messages patients send to physicians has greatly increased as more people utilize virtual care. To help balance physician workload, some healthcare providers are beginning to explore alternative compensation models including charging fees for messages that require clinical time and medical expertise.  

Depending on insurance coverage, patients may see charges ranging from $36 to $70 per message. It’s important to educate your employees about messaging fees if providers in your network charge fees for patient portal messages.  

Facility Fees for Virtual Care 

Another fee patients may need to pay for their telehealth or virtual care visit is a facility fee. Yes, even for virtual visits, if the provider is affiliated with a health system that charges facility fees, the patient will be charged a facility fee for the visit. While once uncommon, facility fees for virtual visits are becoming more commonplace as health systems acquire additional clinics and practices.  

Facility fees can add hundreds – or even thousands of dollars – to a patient’s bill depending on their insurance and the health system the provider is affiliated with. A Colorado mom was surprised with a $847 facility fee for her son’s virtual visit with a speech therapist. Similarly, a mother in Connecticut was told she’d receive two bills for her son’s virtual appointment with a pediatric specialist. One for the physician fee and one for the facility fee, ranging from $50 to $350, depending on her insurance coverage.

Protect Your Employees from Hidden Costs in Virtual Care 

If you want your employees to be informed about the cost of their telehealth and virtual care services, it is important to communicate consistently. Let your employees know which providers in your benefit plan have facility fees for virtual visits.  

Adding information about additional fees to your annual benefit presentation is a great start. But it is also important to communicate with your employees about their healthcare costs year-round. Set aside time throughout the year to go over your benefit plan and answer employees’ questions. Send updates to employees if you find out a provider in your network has changed their fee structure or policies. That way employees can be aware of additional costs for upcoming appointments or consider alternative providers.  

The Alliance helps employers educate their employees to be smarter healthcare consumers. We provide resources to our employer-members including our Find a Doctor tool. This allows employees to easily find in-network providers, including virtual providers. We also offer educational flyers that inform employees how to find in-network providers, where to seek care for different health conditions and how to properly prepare for upcoming appointments. When patients know how to get the most out of their care, they save themselves and their self-funded employers money. This means patients can receive the care they need, and employers can offer better benefits at a lower cost. 

Contact our Business Development team to learn how The Alliance can help your organization. We can help you provide effective telehealth and virtual care benefits for your employees and their families.

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Mike Roche

Mike Roche

Director of Business Development at The Alliance

Mike Roche joined The Alliance as member services manager in 2015. He is responsible for working with Alliance employers on health benefit strategies; sharing data-based information to help members manage their health care spend; and serving as a voice of member employers. 
Mike has a strong background in health benefits and self-funding. He previously served as a regional sales advisor for Digital Benefits Advisors in Madison, Wis., where he managed the health benefits for more than 160 credit union clients across 14 states. Prior to that position, Mike worked at CUNA Mutual Group in their employee benefits division for almost 10 years as an employee benefits sales specialist. 
Mike has a bachelor’s degree with a double major in marketing and business administration and is licensed in both health and life insurance in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana. 

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