For Some, Pandemic Brings Copay-Free Counseling By Phone
In light of social distancing, quarantining and widespread protests over racial injustice, mental health issues may be pushed to the forefront.
But amid more demand for services like counseling and therapy, some aren’t comfortable with risks of in-person treatment during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Andy Beshear issued an order that insurance companies cover COVID-19 treatment; he also encouraged providers to offer telehealth, so more patients could see their doctors from home. But he didn’t mandate offering telehealth — or mandate that insurers cover it free of copays, as some other states have.
Despite this, some public and private insurances in the commonwealth are offering telehealth services and waiving co-pays for its members.
Louisville-based insurer Humana is waiving cost sharing for all telehealth visits, including behavioral health, for in-network providers through 2020. The company also announced in May that it would waive all cost sharing this year for Medicare members — including copays, coinsurance and deductibles — to keep seniors connected with their doctors.
“We will continue to assist all of our members through this unprecedented health crisis by easing any financial burden of seeing their doctor and helping them to live safely in their communities,” said Bruce Broussard, President and CEO of Humana in the release.
Medicaid patients in Kentucky can also access some of these services without co-pays.
In a letter to all Medicaid providers in March, shortly after a state of emergency was first declared, Beshear said he would relax some guidelines to improve health care and telehealth access.
The state’s Medicaid program suspended co-payments during the state of emergency related to COVID-19, including co-payments for behavioral health services. Some services that health care providers previously had to offer in person are now allowed by video conference or telephone during the pandemic, according to Anya Weber of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
CareSource is not waiting copays on telehealth, according to Jonas Thom, Vice President of Behavioral Health. CareSource is an insurance company with 1.9 million members.
Thom said that telehealth mental health resources are available to their members, but the company isn’t waiving copays unless a member’s plan already includes that. However, Thom said the company is “looking into seeing if we can waive some of those costs.”
Beshear has encouraged Kentuckians to pay attention to their mental health, and pushed for expanded access to telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Mental Effects of COVID-19
COVID-19 has affected, and potentially eliminated, people’s usual day-to-day routine, according to Baptist Health’s behavioral health services manager, Kim Gray. The lack of structure can add to a lack of care for mental health whether or not people have preexisting mental health conditions.
“If you used to wake up at 7 a.m. for work, wake up at 7 a.m. now. If you used to go to the gym, go take a walk or run in your neighborhood,” said Gray. “We’re seeing a lot of people who have lost their schedule, stay in and sleep all day, which can add to depression.”
Baptist Health’s Louisville hospital does not offer any telehealth services for behavioral health “due to the level of care and the services we can provide on campus,” according to Gray, and their behavioral health sector offers socially-distanced, in-person services. Gray said behavioral telehealth services are provided at other Baptist Health-affiliated providers and hospitals.
Gray said that she has seen a mix of young people and adults seeking services.
“A lot of the young people we see have come back from college, are living with their parents, and can’t see their friends or be on a college campus,” said Gray. “We’ve seen adults who come in due to losing their job or being furloughed.”
Gray said the change and transition of life due to COVID has affected everyone, but it has great implications for those with preexisting health conditions.