What COVID-19 Services Your Health Plan May Cover

Under two new laws new laws that took effect in March, all health plans must cover testing, preventative services and vaccines for COVID-19 without cost-sharing.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires that group health insurance and individual health insurance plans cover coronavirus testing with zero cost-sharing. This includes deductibles, copayments and coinsurance for items and services provided during a provider visit, whether it is in-person, telehealth-enabled, at an urgent care center, or in an emergency room.

It also waives prior authorization and other “medical management requirements.”

That law was followed up 10 days later by the CARES Act, which requires group plans and individual market plans to cover preventative services and vaccines for COVID-19 without cost-sharing. The coverage applies both to the test itself and to the visit in which the test was administered.

Unfortunately, neither law requires that health plans cover COVID-19 treatment, which would include medication and in-hospital services if you or a member of your family needed to be hospitalized.

Telehealth services

The CARES Act greatly expands the availability of telehealth services beyond diagnosis and treatment for COVID-19 in order to expand access to care. 

As part of the law, the Federal Communications Commission will receive $200 million to provide telecommunications and information services and devices.

Also, restrictions on health savings accounts have been waived to allow high-deductible health plans to cover telehealth services without a deductible. 

The CARES Act also removes the existing requirement that a Medicare beneficiary have a pre-existing patient/provider relationship in order to be treated through telehealth.

The new law also authorizes federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics to be sites for telehealth consultations, and it enhances payments for such telehealth services provided during the emergency period.

The mandate that a number of Medicare services require face-to-face meetings (such as home dialysis patients, home health, and hospice care) has been waived for the duration of the outbreak. The CARES Act also appropriates $25 million for telemedicine and distance learning in rural areas. 

Beware of treatment costs

While most private health plans likely cover most items and services needed to treat complications due to COVID-19, there is no clear federal requirement to do so.

The essential health benefits standard under the ACA defines categories of services to be covered, but it is left to states to designate “benchmark” policies that define specific covered services.

As a result, coverage for at least some services needed to treat COVID-19 ― such as home-delivered care, telemedicine visits, or respiratory therapy visits ― are likely to vary under health insurance plans that are subject to the essential health benefits standard.

Nearly all private health plans use networks of participating hospitals, doctors, laboratories and other providers.

One issue that health plan enrollees have to watch out for is going out of network for coronavirus testing or care.

HMOs, for example, could deny claims for out-of-network services, other than emergency services. Under PPO plans that provide some coverage for out-of-network care, patients can face higher cost-sharing (e.g., patients might be required to pay 20% coinsurance for in-network claims and 50% coinsurance for out-of-network claims.)

In addition, out-of-network care exposes patients to “balance billing,” or the difference between the provider’s undiscounted charge and the amount the health plan considers reasonable. If you are seeking care, make sure you are going to an in-network provider to avoid any undue surprises.

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