Federal insurance plans will have even more provisions for covering telemedicine care for enrollees as a years-long effort to expand such options coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic increasing demand for virtual care.

“Carriers have been encouraged for both 2020 and 2021 to increase coverage for telehealth services, including waiving cost-sharing in response to the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Laurie Bodenheimer, acting director for healthcare and insurance at the Office of Personnel Management, said in an Oct. 14 press call.

“Increasing telehealth coverage under FEHB has been a focus for us for at least the last four years. And perhaps a side-effect of the pandemic is that both enrollees and providers have significantly increased their use of telehealth services and have become comfortable with that, so I would expect that trend to continue.”

Though telehealth interest actually dropped between 2017 and 2019, according to an OPM benefits survey, officials believe that those numbers would change radically had the survey been administered during the pandemic itself.

Insurance providers have been encouraged to cut cost sharing and prior-authorization for remote care treatments specifically related to COVID-19, though patients have turned to virtual care for many healthcare needs beyond the pandemic itself.

Availability of telehealth offerings will vary by insurance provider, and OPM has encouraged feds and annuitants to check all available resources to determine how many offerings are covered by their plans.

“The information is available in the 2020 brochures,” said Bodenheimer.

“An enrollee can also call their plans and ask about specific questions, and we would encourage them to call their providers and ask about whether that particular provider is able to offer telemedicine services.”

FEHB open season for 2021 plans will run from Nov. 9 though Dec. 14 this year.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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