By Making More Telehealth Free, UnitedHealth Hopes to Curb Unneeded ER Visits

UnitedHealthcare will remove out-of-pocket costs and deductibles for remote urgent-care visits, effectively making them free for 5 million members in fully insured employer plans.

The goal is to remove financial barriers that prevent members from getting necessary acute care while deterring them from costlier settings like the emergency room, Donna O’Shea, M.D., chief medical officer of population health for UnitedHealthcare, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

UnitedHealthcare’s effort to steer patients away from the ER is not new — but its $0 copay telehealth visits represent more of a consumer-friendly strategy than it has previously employed. In 2021, the insurer walked back a proposed policy that generated considerable outrage: It would have led to denials of some ER claims that were deemed non-emergencies after the fact.

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Leslie Small

Leslie Small

Leslie has been reporting and editing in various journalism roles for nearly a decade. Most recently, she was the senior editor of FierceHealthPayer, an e-newsletter covering the health insurance industry. A graduate of Penn State University, she previously served in editing roles at newspapers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado.

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