Employers Encouraged to Promote Telehealth Services During COVID-19

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Department of the Treasury have released FAQs to assist group health plans in understanding and complying with the COVID-19 telehealth requirements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The comprehensive FAQs provide clarification on a wide range of issues, and FAQs 13 and 14 specifically address telehealth, explaining the ways in which employers should implement and promote telehealth and other remote care services. The information on telehealth is summarized below.

Employers Encouraged to Promote Telehealth Services During COVID-19

How can plans use telehealth and other remote care services to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency?

The widespread availability and use of telehealth is vital to combatting COVID-19. By using these services, patients are able to seek treatment from a health care professional from home, without having to go to a medical office or hospital, helping minimize the risk of exposure to and community spread of COVID-19.

The Departments strongly encourage all plans to promote the use of telehealth and other remote care services by:

  • Notifying consumers of their availability
  • Ensuring access to a robust suite of services, including mental health and substance use disorder services
  • Covering telehealth without cost sharing or other medical management requirements.

HDHPs with HSAs have new flexibility to offer telehealth without cost-sharing. The CARES Act temporarily allows HDHPs to offer participants cost-free telehealth visits before the deductible is met. This goes for all telehealth services, not just COVID-19-related care. Also, participants will remain eligible to contribute to their HSA during this time. The CARES Acts amendments to the HSA tax rules are effective March 27, 2020, and apply to plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021.

Expanding the use of telehealth will increase healthcare access for patients who may have signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and protect other individuals from potential exposure.

States are encouraged to support efforts to increase access to telehealth. In particular, the Departments urge states to consider whether licensing laws could be relaxed during the COIVD-19 public health emergency, to enable more in-state and out-of-state providers to offer telehealth services in the state.

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In light of the public health emergency posed by COVID-19, will the Departments allow plans to add benefits, or reduce or eliminate cost sharing, for telehealth and other remote care services without providing 60 days advance notice?

Yes. To help facilitate the nation’s response to COVID-19, the Departments will not take enforcement action against any plan that adds benefits, or reduces or eliminates cost sharing, for telehealth and other remote care services, without providing at least 60 days advance notice.

These non-enforcement policies apply to changes made during the public health emergency. Plans must provide notice of the changes as soon as reasonably practicable.

If a plan makes changes beyond the emergency period, they must comply with all other applicable requirements to update plan documents or terms of coverage. The Departments would continue to take enforcement action against any plan that attempts to limit or eliminate other benefits, or to increase cost-sharing, to offset the costs of increasing the generosity of benefits related to the diagnosis and/or treatment of COVID19.

[Related Reading: COVID-19 Testing Requirements for Group Health Plans]

Coronavirus Resources

Learn More

View the full document FAQS About Families First Coronavirus Response Ac and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Implementation.

Find more resources for plan sponsors:

Brenda Hofmann
Communications Manager at the International Foundation

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