Congress urged to expand Telehealth Options for Employees

On November 1st, 2021, the American Telehealth Association and nearly 50 other organizations have written a letter to Congress requesting that the temporary pandemic regulations pertaining to telehealth services be made permanent and categorized as an excepted benefit for certain employees.

If approved, virtual healthcare could become available and covered beyond the COVID-19 pandemic as an excepted benefit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which as of now does not include any telehealth or remote care coverage. Based on current regulations, if an employer offers telehealth or remote care services to their employees, such benefit is considered a “group health plan” under ERISA. There are a number of mandates regulating “group health plans” and, if they are not met, employers can be penalized. For these reasons, employers cannot offer telehealth and remote care benefits to their employees.

As proven during the public health emergency, telehealth and remote care services offer access to high-quality care that provides an essential lifeline to U.S. workers. As a result, telehealth has emerged as a cost-effective solution to ensure working Americans have access to medical care, including behavioral and mental health services, regardless of their coverage status or eligibility. It is time for Congress to take action to permanently add telehealth and remote care services as an excepted benefit for these employees.” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the ATA.

Furthermore, the letter highlighted that “Without Congressional action, employers will be unable to offer basic virtual health services to millions of Americans in part-time and seasonal jobs or workers otherwise not participating in their employer’s full medical plan.”

The request for targeted ERISA reforms that would allow employers to offer telehealth benefits to their employees in the long run without risking any penalties is just one of many policies that congress needs to consider in the transition to the post-pandemic world. We are hopeful that the permanent post-pandemic regulations will allow for the much-needed coverage and access to telehealth and remote care, while still maintaining HIPAA mandates for compliant solutions and practices.

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