Blue Shield of California Launches ‘Virtual First’ Health Plan With Accolade, TeleMed2U

In partnership with Accolade and TeleMed2U, Blue Shield of California released its Virtual Blue health benefits plan 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 tied a really robust virtual care offering to our tandem [preferred provider organization] network, which is an in-person network that spans the entire state of California,” said Dr. Nina Birnbaum, medical director of innovation acceleration at the payer. “So people can easily access virtual care through our virtual care partners for those benefits in primary care, specialty care and mental health … If they want or need at any time to be seen in person, they’ve got access to our team and PPO network across the state.” 

Virtual Blue includes $0 out-of-pocket costs for the virtual services. It offers primary care for pediatrics, family medicine and internal medicine through Accolade. In Accolade’s primary care model, physicians work with health coaches, care coordinators and nurses to provide care. Members are able to choose a primary care physician based on gender, race, experience and language.

The plan also provides specialty care for 20 specialty types through TeleMed2U. The specialty types include endocrinology and cardiology. Additionally, Virtual Blue offers mental health care for members ages 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 provider organization network for in-person care.

When members sign up for Virtual Blue, they receive a vitals kit, which includes a scale, a thermometer and a blood pressure cuff.

“[The vitals kit] reassures our virtual providers that they can do full scale care,” Birnbaum said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, hold your camera up to your eye. Let me see if you have pink eye.’ It’s really, ‘Let me check your key health metrics, your blood pressure, your weight, your body mass index so that I can help you make good judgments.’”

Virtual Blue was created after seeing the interest in virtual care among patients and providers during the Covid-19 pandemic, Birnbaum added. She anticipates the health plan benefiting a wide range of populations, including children, young adults, older adults and those living in rural communities.

“I think the pandemic really showed us through necessity that doctors and patients were willing and ready and able to use virtual care for a lot more than we maybe actually thought they would,” Birnbaum said.

Blue Shield of California hopes to expand access to healthcare by offering Virtual Blue, Birnbaum stated.

“Our ultimate goal is to really increase access to everybody … It’s not just pure convenience. ‘Oh, I can get an appointment right now or in five minutes or in half an hour.’ It’s ‘I can get an appointment with someone who knows me, who can see my medical record, who can help me make judgments about what’s right for me.’ That kind of access we think is going to pay dividends to those individuals in terms of really improving their health.”

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images