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HR Policy Supports First-Dollar Coverage of Telehealth and Primary Care Visits

Published on: October 15, 2021

Authors: Margaret Faso

Topics: Federal Health Care Reform, Wellness

HR Policy joined a letter of support for the Primary and Virtual Care Affordability Act (H.R. 5541), which provides two-year authorization of first-dollar coverage of telehealth services and in-person primary care visits for employees enrolled in a high deductible health plan.

Additional flexibility for employees beyond the pandemic:  The CARES Act relaxed IRS rules related to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These changes greatly increased access to services for the Medicare population.  Many group health plans followed suit and removed certain barriers to access telehealth services.  However, these changes were not permanent, and many employees have seen their access to telehealth services revert to pre-pandemic rules.   

Improves mental health access:  Telehealth has served as an essential avenue for care, especially behavioral health care.  Patients that receive care from a mental health provider via telehealth are more likely to keep their subsequent appointments which is crucial to managing mental illnesses. 

Outlook:  Introduced by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), this legislation enables employees to have greater access to mental health and primary care services without worrying about the cost of care.  A similar bill, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Daines (R-MT) and Sen. Cortez Masto (D-NV), authorizes first-dollar coverage of telehealth under a HDHP but makes the change permanent and does not cover in-person primary care visits.  Given the temporary nature of the Primary and Virtual Care Affordability Act, the House bill is more likely to pass than the Senate bill.  HR Policy will continue advocating for the removal of barriers that limit the scope of benefits employers can provide to their employees. 

Margaret Faso

Director of Health Care Research and Policy, American Health Policy Institute and HR Policy Association

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