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SHRM Seeks Continuation of Pre-Deductible Telehealth Coverage

Lapsed relief allowed increased access to telehealth care

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On Jan. 31, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) wrote to Democratic and Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate urging them to restore pre-deductible coverage of telehealth services for high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), including those that are linked to health savings accounts (HSAs).

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law in March 2020, allowed HSA-eligible health plans to provide pre-deductible coverage for telehealth services, but only through 2021. Normal cost-sharing was still allowed for telehealth visits, such as through co-pays that the plan may require after the deductible is paid.

"Congress should reinstate pre-deductible telehealth services for high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts in the upcoming spending bill," urged the letter, signed by Emily M. Dickens, SHRM's chief of staff, head of government affairs and corporate secretary. The letter was sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

SHRM and its more than 300,000 HR professional and business executive members "attribute the lapsed telehealth benefit policy to increased access to health care," stated the letter, which called pre-deductible telehealth coverage "a valued option for workers."

SHRM research reported that 43 percent of organizations expanded telehealth services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, while 49 percent maintained telehealth benefits, the letter noted.

"Improved access to telehealth allows employees to access health care options at their convenience and expands the services and providers available to them," SHRM told congressional leaders. "First-dollar coverage benefits employees because it allows health insurance providers to cover telehealth services without a patient having to first pay their co-pay or deductible."

Among bills being considered by Congress, the bipartisan Telehealth Expansion Act would permanently extend the CARES Act telehealth waiver to allow individuals with HSA-qualified high-deductible plans to access telehealth services before meeting their deductible. The bipartisan Primary and Virtual Care Affordability Act would extend first-dollar coverage for telehealth services through 2023 and give HDHPs the leeway to waive the deductible for primary care services.

Administrative Action Sought

Removing first-dollar coverage for telehealth is "putting employers in a terrible position," Adam Solander, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of King & Spalding, told Bloomberg Tax. Employers "have to potentially remove benefits from people in the midst of the pandemic," he said.

Bloomberg reported, "Rather than wait for Congress to act, employer groups and some lawmakers are also asking the Biden administration to issue policies guaranteeing that employers would not face enforcement of the tax law for covering telehealth services."


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