Special healthcare provisions in place during COVID-19 crisis
AAC provides current information on CARES Act healthcare coverage, costs
By Becky Comet
AAC Member Benefits Manager
Here we are in the fourth week since the first positive case of COVID-19 was found in Arkansas. We are somewhat settling into this new way of life. We are social distancing, trying to “slow the spread,” and finding the best ways to work in our offices — whether we are in our “real” office or an at-home office. We are doing our best to deal with the stresses that go along with every facet of this new normal. One of those stresses we are trying to get a handle on is how this will affect our personal finances, specifically as they relate to healthcare coverage and costs.
The Association of Arkansas Counties is trying to help you stay up to date on issues that directly affect you, like healthcare coverage and cost information. However, like the virus itself, the information changes and evolves regularly. The following is what we currently know with regards to healthcare.
Thankfully there is some good news on this front based on federal legislation that was recently passed. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed and was signed into law on March 27, 2020. This Act covers a host of topics. However, we are going to stick with those related to our individual healthcare coverage and cost.
The law requires all testing and potential vaccines for COVID-19 to be covered at no cost to patients. That means our insurance companies, including Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid, are waiving co-payments, cost-sharing, and out-of-pocket expenses for diagnostic testing for COVID-19 without the need to meet a deductible and without prior authorization. Please understand that the testing must be provided at approved locations in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. When a vaccine is ready for the public, this no-cost provision will hold true for that vaccine, as well.
The CARES Act also provides more flexibility in the area of telehealth. Telemedicine is the use of technology that enables remote healthcare — telehealth. Basically, it makes it possible for physicians to treat patients whenever needed and wherever the patient is by using a computer or smartphone. Because telehealth offers patients access to COVID-19 screening or care while avoiding exposure to others, the CARES Act includes several temporary policy changes relating to telehealth services in order to increase access to care during the COVID-19 crisis. The Act eliminates the requirement that a professional must have treated a Medicare beneficiary in the last three years in order to provide them with Medicare telehealth services during the COVID-19 emergency. This will enable Medicare beneficiaries to access telehealth, including in their home, from a broader range of providers. During the emergency period, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and rural health clinics will be able to serve as distant sites to provide telehealth services to patients in their homes and other eligible locations.
Many of the health insurance companies used by our counties are waiving co-payments, cost-sharing, and out-of-pocket expenses for telehealth services, whether it is related to COVID-19 or not. Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Health Advantage are waiving telehealth costs to their fully insured members for physical and/or behavioral health when received from an in-network provider at least through May 15. QualChoice Health says there is no cost sharing for telehealth services and no prior authorization through June 30. UnitedHealthcare is also waiving cost-sharing for in-network, non-COVID-19 telehealth visits for its Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and fully insured individual and group health plans through June 18.
Since the health insurance companies used by counties vary, please check with your health insurance provider to get the best information for your specific situation. Make sure to ask what costs are being waived, what telehealth services they are providing, and any cut off dates that apply. The insurance companies are required to waive certain costs according to the CARES Act. However, some companies are going above and beyond in this crisis. So always ask what they can do for you.
Hopefully this information will ease your mind and decrease your stress a bit in this difficult time. We will get through this. We are getting little glimmers of good news daily. Thank you all for your hard work, perseverance, and willingness to do whatever it takes and whatever is needed.