Legislation’s Role in Permanently Improving Workers Telehealth Access.

Telehealth Benefit Expansion

Healthcare providers should be keeping their eyes on a new piece of bipartisan legislation seeking to offer workers stand-alone telehealth benefits – much in the same way that vision and dental plans are offered.

We all remember how quickly telehealth became mainstream as the pandemic ramped up in 2020 – spurred on by both need and the government legislation that ensured payment for those services. Since that time, more and more consumers and providers have found the technology to be not only useful, but critical for expanding access to underserved communities and populations that truly always needed it. This leads us to the introduction by legislation of a telehealth benefit expansion.

The 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act

The Biden Administration’s plan is to end the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) status on May 11, 2023. When that happens, many of the temporary provisions put in place during the pandemic will come to an end. However, recent legislation, called the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 extended many of the COVID-19 policies – including telehealth flexibilities – through December 31, 2024.

It seems likely that this additional period of time will be used to work towards making telehealth provisions permanent.

The Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act

This piece of legislation differs from the COVID-19 extensions in that it seeks to make telehealth options a part of group plans as a category called excepted benefits.

What are excepted benefits?

Under the Affordable Care Act, excepted benefits are types of coverage that are not included in a traditional health insurance plan.

There are currently four categories of excepted benefits:

  1. Non-health coverage – disability insurance, worker’s compensation insurance
  2. Limited  health benefits – dental, vision, long-term care insurance
  3. Specific disease or illness coverage – cancer insurance, hospital indemnity insurance
  4. Supplemental health benefits – separate policies that supplement Medicare or Armed Forces healthcare coverage

The Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act can improve coverage by making telehealth an excepted benefit. Those services contracts can be negotiated separately by employers, keeping costs lower through market competition. It would also allow employers to offer lower-cost high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) with health savings accounts and telehealth services added on. This would be an affordable option for many workers who are in a lower income bracket and may currently lack coverage.

High-deductible health plans typically require out-of-pocket expenses to see a doctor or receive treatment, which is where the health savings plan closes the gap. With telehealth options added on as an excepted benefit, consumers can use these lower-cost services for minor illnesses and stretch those savings funds even further.

While a traditional insurance plan model, such as a PPO, may still make more sense for some consumers, the flexibility added by offering HDHPs plus telehealth benefits is a great option for others.

Get Ready For the Changes Ahead

This new legislation has strong bipartisan support and looks to be a likely development in 2023. Practices can use this opportunity to make sure that their telehealth processes are robust and ready to meet the challenge. It is likely that new patients will be signing up that were not previous telehealth users, making smooth and streamlined processes important.

FormDr supports both brick-and-mortar and telehealth practices across the country with electronic patient forms, including client intake forms, medical release forms, and many other types of HIPAA-compliant telehealth documents. Our many features make obtaining medical history, signatures, insurance cards, and other information a breeze. Patients have the freedom to complete the information ahead of the visit from a tablet, smartphone, or computer. To find out how FormDr can be your valuable telehealth partner, schedule time with us for a free demo and consultation.