By  Alan  M.  Solomon, Ph.D.

Insurance companies are moving towards reducing the benefits for telehealth services  (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/07/03/despite-covid-19-increase-insurance-companies-pull-back-telehealth/5352297002/). They may be lowering reimbursement levels to pre-COVID 19 levels so that reimbursement to providers will be lower and out-of-pocket co-pays will be higher for patients.  They may also re-institute prior authorizations for services, which is a time-consuming process for providers that often discourages them from even providing service.

While Medicare and Medi-Cal (Medicaid in other states) are likely to provide telehealth coverage with increased benefits till the end of the year, many private plans now seem ready to reduce coverage in September.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas, for example, is now set to take this step as of September 1; they had originally set the expiration date for May 31.  Some insurance companies, such as Aetna, had suspended co-pays entirely for mental health services, in recognition of the psychological impact of the COVID 19 pandemic (see previous blogs on anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, coping with stress, and child abuse).  Aetna CEO, Karen Lynch, acknowledged COVID 19’s “…deadly undertow: a mental health crisis with significant impact on all Americans.”

In Arizona, where infection rates are surging and hospital ICU units are almost at capacity, insurers were starting to drop telehealth coverage until last-minute changes (as of this writing). California, especially Southern California, is also experiencing a significant surge. Providers’ offices are now burdened with checking with insurers frequently to verify current policies, one more burden that makes providing quality care more difficult.  Many patients remain unwilling to come for an office visit.  And for psychotherapy, many therapists feel unready to resume face-to-face appointments to protect the safety of their patients, as well as their own safety.

Practical steps to take:  be sure to check your insurance coverage to see what telehealth benefits are being offered and what the timeframe for these benefits may be.  Communicate with your government representatives to encourage them to legislate as needed, and maintain pressure on insurance companies to continue telehealth benefits at higher levels. With IPN therapists, we are open to discussing fees, making adjustments as possible, and providing quality care.

Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA, currently providing telehealth services. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310  539-2772 or dralanms@gmail.com

Copyright 2020 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.

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