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What to Do If Your Employer Offers Telehealth in Your Health Plan

The typical co-pay for a phone or video telehealth visit may be $15 or less, versus $20 for an office visit, $50 for urgent care and up to $150 for the ER.

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My employer is offering telehealth as part of its health plan in 2016. What exactly is telehealth, and do I have to use it rather than seeing a doctor in person? --M.S., Madison, Wis.

See Also: 50 Ways to Cut Your Health Care Costs

Telehealth offers virtual visits with a doctor by phone or through video chat. Michael King, of Teladoc, a telehealth company, says it is mostly used for people suffering from common complaints, such as sinus, upper respiratory and urinary tract infections; bronchitis; allergies; and flu and coughs. Or, if you have a rash, you can e-mail a photo to a telehealth doctor for a diagnosis.

Some employers use a separate telehealth program, but most offer it as an option in their health plan. “No one requires you to use telehealth, but some employers encourage employees to use it by lowering the co-payment,” says Allan Khoury, a senior health management consultant with benefits consulting firm Towers Watson. The typical co-pay for a telehealth visit may be $15 or less, versus $20 for an office visit, $50 for urgent care and up to $150 for the ER.

Employers can cut costs, too. An office visit may cost $150, and the ER can cost $700 or more, but a visit with a telehealth doctor typically costs $40.

See Also: Ways to Get Your Health Plan to Cover More of Your Care

Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.