Teletherapy in the Time of COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a pandemic. In response, public health experts around the world have asked individuals and organizations to take action to prevent and limit the transmission of this disease in their communities. Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that health care providers begin taking steps to provide some services remotely in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

If you see a therapist or psychiatrist regularly for in-person visits, they may have already contacted you about temporarily transitioning your therapy to remote sessions using a video teleconferencing service. Getting therapy this way is sometimes called “teletherapy,” and has been increasingly utilized over the past decade to deliver mental health care with strong results in both adults and children with OCD. 

If your therapist hasn’t contacted you to discuss teletherapy, you might be thinking about suggesting this as an option. You also might be wondering whether your insurance will cover teletherapy visits the same way they cover your in-person visits.

Here are some things to consider:

What to know about insurance coverage:

  • Private: Insurance coverage for teletherapy varies considerably from state to state, and by insurance plan.
  • Medicaid: Many state Medicaid plans cover teletherapy.
  • Medicare: Medicare has waived many of its restrictions on telehealth during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. This means that medicare will cover teletherapy regardless of where the patient is located or whether the visit takes place in the home or at a health care facility. More information is available from CMS.

Providing teletherapy can be tricky for therapists because of the rules and regulations they need to follow. For example, even if your insurance covers teletherapy, your therapist may not be able to provide it to you if you live in a different state than where your therapist usually practices (this isn’t always the case — be sure to check with your therapist).

Steps you can take:

  • Ask your therapist if they are offering teletherapy, or if they are planning to make it an option in the near future.
  • If your therapist accepts insurance, ask if they are familiar with your insurer’s rules for reimbursing teletherapy.
  • Call your insurer to see what options you have. You may need prior authorization in order for teletherapy services to be covered.
  • Don’t give up! If you aren’t able to access teletherapy services due to decisions made by your insurer or therapist, consider asking again after some time has passed. Decisions about how to deliver care may be modified as the situation changes.
  • You may need to see a new therapist if you are no longer residing in the state that the therapist you were seeing (e.g., if your school sent you home for the semester). In this case, if you do need a new therapist, be sure that they are willing to coordinate your care with your former therapist to assure that you maintain your gains in treatment.
  • If your current therapist cannot do teletherapy with you and you would still like to pursue that option, ask them for a referral or find someone with OCD expertise who offers teletherapy. You may check the IOCDF’s Resource Directory, or go on your insurer’s website for options.
  • If your insurer denies your request for prior authorization, consider filing an appeal.

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