Kelly Munson, President of Aetna Medicaid, serves Medicaid members at both extremes of omnichannel care. Here is what she’s learned.
Many states loosened restrictions around telehealth use due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent report to Congress has looked at the implications, some of which have been dramatic. Visits that had been missed because of childcare and transportation difficulties were now attended. Behavioral health care, which could take place in the privacy of the home, was one of the most common services delivered via virtual care during the pandemic.
At the same time, technology troubles kept some users from enjoying those benefits. Physical therapy and well-child visits suffered when virtual visits were the only option. Going forward, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is keeping an eye on telehealth care to track its value, with special attention on whether it might reduce health disparities.
Kelly Munson, President of Aetna Medicaid, discusses this new frontier and how Medicaid members enrolled in Aetna’s own managed care plans have come to navigate omnichannel health care delivery.
Question (Q): In the Medicaid community, how popular is virtual care?
Munson: Our Medicaid members increased their use of virtual care substantially during the COVID-19 shutdowns. For example, before March 2020, 3% of our members had at least one virtual care visit. During the pandemic this increased to 17% of our membership and has decreased slightly over the past year, but still notably higher than before the pandemic.
This may be because Medicaid members are a relatively young population, so they are comfortable using smartphones and other tech. About 80% of our Medicaid members are age 44 and younger, so it makes sense that they are comfortable with virtual health care. About 86% of Medicaid members have access to a smartphone, which is a tool they can use to access services.
Q: What are some of the ways that virtual care has been especially useful to this group?
Munson: Nearly two-thirds of the adult Medicaid population is working. With virtual care, there’s much greater flexibility to fit health care into their work schedules. During a break, for instance, they can go to their car or some other private place and use a smartphone to connect with their provider.
Or consider a mom with three young kids. She can have a virtual visit without worrying about getting childcare or arranging for transportation or the hassle of bringing kids to the doctor’s office. And many Medicaid recipients live in rural areas where there are fewer specialists. Virtual care can patch them into specialty care from their primary care provider’s office or in some instances a CVS location, which is game-changing.
The most underrated benefit, though, may be that it puts more control in our members’ hands. Some Medicaid patients may not trust the health care system. Their doctors may not look or sound like them, and they worry about the stigma that Medicaid sometimes carries. Virtual care eases that vulnerability because they are receiving care in a safe place—their own home.