Telemedicine during COVID-19: Everything you need to know
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many doctors’ offices are closed for all non-emergency care. And unfortunately, some have simply closed indefinitely, unable to keep their doors open without being able to see their normal volume of patients. Nearly half of adults (48%) say they or someone in their household have postponed or skipped medical care due to the coronavirus outbreak.
However, many patients still need care. Doctors may be less accessible in person right now. But many people will still be able to “see” a health care provider should they need through telemedicine.
Free phone hotlines
If you have health insurance, your insurance company may offer a free nurse hotline. These hotlines are typically open 24/7. They allow members of a given insurance plan to speak with a nurse on their own schedule, wherever they are.
Have a question about your health? Aren’t sure if you need to see a physician? Calling a free nurse hotline can effectively triage your situation. The nurses staffing these lines, as veteran medical professionals, can help advise as to whether you can stay at home and what additional symptoms to be on the lookout for if need be. And if they think you might need to see a provider immediately, they can provide that context too.
24/7 nurse hotlines are a great resource for questions regarding:
- Symptoms you are experiencing
- Medications and side effects
- Reliable self-care home treatments
- When to go to a doctor
- When to go to an emergency room
- Resources for additional medical providers in your area who are in-network for you
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, many health insurance companies are waiving out-of-pocket costs for all in-network primary care visits, whether done in-office or via telehealth services. Others are removing all cost-sharing for all telemedicine services, including virtual visits with primary care providers and specialists. And others are extending the kind of coverage offered through telehealth visits. This means that you may now have coverage for telehealth services for things you may not have had telehealth coverage for before, like mental health care and speech pathology.
You should check with your individual plan for details on telemedicine coverage, both during the pandemic and after. Plans will vary, even in the midst of plan changes in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Furthermore, if a provider’s office calls to check on your benefits for you, you are best to confirm these benefits with your health insurance company yourself too.
Options can also vary in terms of the kinds of telemedicine coverage available. Video visits are those that can be done over a computer, smart phone, or any other device with both video and WiFi access. Some doctors may be doing phone appointments. And depending on the kind of care, some may be offering some kind of care via text-based applications.
What to do if you’re uninsured
Even if you don’t have health insurance, some forms of telemedicine may still be available to you at minimal costs. For example, web applications like Planned Parenthood’s PP Direct app or Nurx offer things like contraception counseling and prescribing, PrEP prescribing and dispensing, and testing and treatment for other sexual and reproductive health concerns like UTIs or STIs at minimal fees. With insurance coverage, use of these platforms, most of which utilize web chat, are free. Without, users can expect to pay as little as $15 – $25 per service / medication using these tools. Teladoc is another option that offers everyday care for $49 per visit.
You can see if you’re eligible for free or low-cost health coverage through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act by entering your zip code below. You can also call us to enroll at (872) 228-2549.
If you’re uninsured, we recommend you look into your insurance options listed below:
- Marketplace/Obamacare plan. You can enroll in a Marketplace health insurance plan, also known as Obamacare or Affordable Care Act insurance. See plans and prices here.
- Medicaid. You also may be eligible for Medicaid, depending on your income. You can see if you’re eligible and apply here.
- COBRA. If you’ve been laid off recently, you usually have the option of COBRA, where you pay the full premium of the same insurance your employer purchased for you. COBRA is typically much more expensive than Marketplace insurance, but it allows you to continue the coverage you already had. Learn more about comparing COBRA with Obamacare health insurance.
- Medicare. Once you turn 65, you’re eligible for Medicare. Call us to enroll at (855) 677-3060.
Those who are covered by Medicare Part B now have access to telehealth coverage as a result in changes made to the program in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. These visits will be billed the same as an in-person visit, so you may need to pay co-insurance or towards your deductible first. The Medicare Part B annual deductible for 2020 is $198 and co-insurance rates are 20%. However, many individual providers are opting to reduce or waive fees for telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic. Doctor on Demand has waived co-pays for Medicare Part B recipients.
The following kinds of providers may be providing covered telehealth services to Medicare Part B beneficiaries during the pandemic:
- Nurse practitioners
- Physician assistants
- Licensed clinical social workers, in specific circumstances
- Clinical psychologists, in specific circumstances
- Physical therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Speech language pathologists