UnitedHealthcare and Centene Corp. have added “virtual first” plan designs to their employer-sponsored offerings, becoming the latest commercial insurance giants to offer benefit designs built around virtual primary and urgent care. Health care insiders tell AIS Health that while there is some demand among employers for such services, they don’t expect the virtual-first model to replace traditional benefit designs any time soon.

UnitedHealthcare, the country’s largest carrier and a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, said on Oct. 18 that it will offer employers in nine markets — Little Rock, Ark.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Pittsburgh; Springfield, Mass.; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.; Richmond, Va.; Indianapolis; Dallas; and Houston — what it dubs “NavigateNOW.” Will Shanley, director of public relations at United Healthcare, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT, that NavigateNOW is currently available only to fully insured employers. The carrier plans to make the benefit design available to self-funded employers for the 2023 plan year. Shanley adds that “we anticipate expanding to 25+ markets by the end of 2023.”

In a press release, UnitedHealth said members will enjoy “unlimited 24/7 access to care” and $0 copays for “virtual and in-person primary care and behavioral health visits, virtual urgent care and most generic medications, with unlimited chat, online scheduling and on-demand, same-day appointments.” The press release also claimed that the offering will “reduc[e] plan premiums by approximately 15%.”

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