Coverage for Virtual Substance Abuse Treatment Grows

Thousands of American families have been affected by the tragedy of someone with a substance abuse problem.

For many, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, finding available and affordable treatment has been difficult or impossible. Recently, however, virtual treatment options have become available, and some insurance companies are beginning to pay for them.

This is an important development for both the group health insurance arena as well as the individual health insurance market. For employers, this is another lifeline that they can highlight for their staff as so many people have been affected by the stresses of the pandemic. For individual policyholders, they could have access to convenient and timely treatment.

Start-up companies across the country are offering virtual substance abuse treatment, including:

  • Boulder Care, which provides digital opioid-addiction treatment.
  • Pear Therapeutics, which provides software-based disease treatments; its lead product is a treatment for substance abuse disorders approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • Ria Health, which employs 45 clinicians who can prescribe treatments online for alcohol-addicted patients.

These start-ups have attracted the attention of group health insurance companies, some of which are starting to cover their treatments for people insured under their health plans. For example:

  • Ria Health has contracts with at least four insurers covering millions of people.
  • Boulder Care has a partnership with Anthem.
  • Pear Therapeutics has contracts with regional health plans in three states.
  • An opioid-addiction treatment provider in Massachusetts has partnerships with UnitedHealth Group and Kaiser Permanente.

Virtual treatments for addiction are becoming popular for several reasons. Patients may feel a social stigma from receiving in-patient treatment at rehabilitation centers.

Instead, virtual treatment in their homes permits them to keep their conditions private. It also provides flexibility. Ria Health offers its services on demand while enabling patients to customize their goals.

Receiving treatment faster

Demand for substance abuse treatment has grown during the pandemic.

Studies show that a quarter of American adults reported drinking more alcohol during the health emergency, including more than half of parents of elementary school children. As a result, space has been at a premium at in-patient rehabilitation facilities. Some have had lengthy waiting lists.

Virtual treatment gives new options to patients who cannot get admitted to rehab centers.

Because of the pandemic:

  • Some states made new rules for prescribing medicine via telehealth visits less restrictive.
  • The federal government started requiring payment parity for physician visits done via video.

Both of these factors have encouraged the growth of these start-ups.

These solutions are attractive to insurers because they reduce costs. Substance abuse patients who cannot get into rehab centers may overdose and end up in emergency rooms.

ERs are often the most expensive places to obtain care. Planned treatments over periods of time reduce the need for ER visits.

Multiply the savings over hundreds of thousands of patients, and it should be no surprise that insurers are signing seven-figure contracts with these providers.

Employers see these new plan features as an additional way to retain valuable employees. In any large group of employees, there will be some who are suffering from addiction or have family members who are, and they will value this benefit.

If you are an employer who offers these plans, you may want to check with your health insurers to see if they’ve changed coverage terms for this type of treatment. If so, you may want to consider spreading the word among your staff.

For some of your employees or their family members, life-saving help may be just a video chat away.

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