Kaiser Permanente launches virtual-first health plan in Washington


In response to increasing patient demand for telehealth, Kaiser Permanente this week announced the launch of a new “virtual-first” healthcare plan in Washington state.

The plan, which will be available January 1, 2021, through Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington’s direct to employer groups and consumers, will center telehealth as a foundational modality of care for patients with nonurgent issues.

“Virtual care is the health care of today and tomorrow,” said Dr. Paul Minardi, president and executive medical director of Washington Permanente Medical Group, in a statement.

“The pandemic has reinforced the need to provide care in the most convenient, accessible, and safe way for our members, and that’s what Virtual Plus does,” he said.


As with other providers, Kaiser Permanente says it saw a huge uptick in telehealth use since the start of the pandemic. According to the company, it was one of the first healthcare organizations to deliver the majority of care via telemedicine.

The system’s options include its Consulting Nurse Service, Care Chat online messaging, video and phone visits. About 65% of appointments are now conducted virtually.

The new health plan will allow members to reach out via phone, online chat, video or email for nonurgent issues. According to the company, patients will see the same doctors and clinicians as they would at any Kaiser Permanente facility, with their data available through electronic health records.

Members can get in touch with their clinicians virtually, with the option to come in person for follow-up visits, says the organization.

They have access to Kaiser Permanente pharmacists via telehealth and can get medications delivered in one to two days.

“With this new plan, we are innovating to give our members more convenient care options at a more affordable cost, respecting their choices and preferences,” said Joseph Smith, vice president of sales and business development, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington, in a statement.


Although much attention has been paid of late to any upcoming physician fee schedules for telehealth under Medicare and Medicaid, some private payers have also taken strides to center virtual care in the future of their coverage.

This summer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee announced that it would make in-network telehealth services permanent.

Telehealth “has opened up another opportunity for people to get care in a different way,” said BCBS Tennessee SVP and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andrea Willis. “We are continuing this expansion for our commercial population because it feels like it’s the right thing to do.”


“We are excited to offer another care option to our members that continues our commitment of providing high-quality, convenient, and affordable health care,” said Smith.