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Optum expands the number of behavioral telehealth providers

By the end of March, 33% of behavioral health claims for Optum members were for a telehealth visit, compared to 2% prior to COVID-19.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Optum is responding to the need to address behavioral health by expanding the availability of telehealth visits, including growing the number of providers available to see patients virtually.

By the end of March, 33% of all care was shifted to telehealth, according to  Optum, which is part of UnitedHealth Group.

WHY THIS MATTERS

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The shift to telehealth has speeded up to meet care demand during the coronavirus pandemic when in-person visits have been put on hold.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has allowed for greater flexibility in reimbursement for telehealth services. The move is temporary during the crisis, but as CMS had been increasing flexibility for telehealth use, first through Medicare Advantage plans, and then through regular Medicare prior to the pandemic, the additional ability to use telehealth is only expected to increase.

Optum recently extended telehealth flexibility through at least May 31. More than 200,000 Optum behavioral health providers can deliver care through alternative technologies like telephone visits or video-chat services. This policy applies to commercial, Medicare and Medicaid members served by Optum.

Members are connected to applied-behavior-analysis clinicians, group therapy and intensive outpatient program sessions.

THE LARGER TREND

In March, Optum began to recruit new providers and accelerate approvals of providers interested in offering virtual care through its online platform. Since then, the number of providers participating in this network has increased by more than 45%, bringing the number of certified virtual visit providers to more than 10,000.

In addition, the number of appointments scheduled by members through Optum's virtual visit platform is 52% higher than pre-COVID-19 averages.

Early claims data indicates a significant shift in the use of telehealth for behavioral healthcare. Normally, about 2% of all behavioral health claims Optum receives are for a telehealth visit. By the end of March, approximately 33% of all behavioral health claims for Optum members were for a telehealth visit.

The most recent claims data indicates that the proportion of telehealth visits continues to sharply increase.

ON THE RECORD

"We will continue to ensure the people we serve are able to stay connected with behavioral healthcare providers during COVID-19," said Rebecca Schechter, CEO of Optum Behavioral Health. "We're also doing more by proactively reaching out to our most vulnerable members so they understand how to best continue their treatment, including prescription refills."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com