As Patients Embrace Telemedicine, Health Insurers Must Act
COMMENTARY

December 22, 2020by David Panzirer, Trustee at the Helmsley Charitable Trust
David Panzirer is a father of two children living with type 1 diabetes.

Virtual care is the fix for a lot of what’s broken with healthcare in America today. As patients embrace the conveniences of telehealth, medical professionals are recognizing that the pandemic model is here to stay. It’s time for the insurance industry to do the same. 

While a few private insurers have pledged to continue to cover telehealth services at pandemic levels through the end of the year, some of the nation’s biggest insurers remain quiet. The reason is simple. They view telemedicine as a way to save money by reimbursing less than they would for an in-person visit. This approach is short-sighted and shameful.   

The COVID-19 pandemic thrust telemedicine into the spotlight and laid bare an unfair playing field when it comes to health disparities, including racial and ethnic disparities, and limitations for those living in rural America. In 2020, geography should not dictate access to specialists or patient outcomes. Yet it still does, even though technology exists to radically level the playing field for those living in rural areas. We need to utilize it – and payers should help pave the way.  

The reality is, doctors do not need in-person visits more than once a year with patients who have chronic conditions – including insulin-dependent diabetes – that are well-managed, especially when virtual support is available. Still, health insurers require these office visits to justify equipment and medication changes. This is a waste of time and money for all involved and adds great risk for those who need to minimize exposure during COVID-19. 

We should be tailoring care to those who need it and stop forcing a one-size-fits-all approach that is clearly failing. In the U.S., we treat symptoms, not people, and try to do it as cheaply as possible. We spend more money on healthcare per capita than all other developed countries, while outcomes remain mediocre at best. We talk a lot about “patient-centricity” and “personalized medicine,” but these buzz words rarely exist in reality, especially with diabetes care and other chronic conditions.  

Now is the time to embrace this new normal, to usher in a better era in healthcare, and to convince insurers they should continue paying for virtual care.

Now is the time to invest in new models of care that embrace technology to develop a permanent and sustainable infrastructure for telehealth. The payoff will be healthier people who may be less susceptible to the ravages of infectious diseases like COVID-19. Now is the time to embrace this new normal, to usher in a better era in healthcare, and to convince insurers they should continue paying for virtual care.  

COVID-19 is inflicting irreparable pain on the country and we grieve every day for the more than 317,000 Americans we’ve lost. In their memory, let us seize this moment and never go back. This crisis presents a rare opportunity to improve healthcare in our country dramatically and transform it for the better for generations to come. To get it done, we need insurance executives to finally put people before profits.  


David Panzirer is a Trustee at the Helmsley Charitable Trust and the father of two children living with type 1 diabetes.

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