Does Health Insurance Cover Online Therapy?

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While the conditions related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) hold a lot of our attention, millions of Americans are also wondering how to begin or continue mental health services and psychotherapy online. With much of the country at home and moving forward in the midst of a pandemic, access to telehealth and teletherapy services is more important than ever.

As a result, support for mental health services is shifting. Rather than traditional face-to-face sessions, most therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have transitioned from an in-person office setting to online therapy. While we don’t know when widespread social distancing will end, it’s safe to say that virtual visits may become our new normal for some time.

What Is Online Therapy?

Online therapy or “teletherapy,” as it is often called, operates much the same way as traditional, in-person therapy, but with a twist.

Rather than visiting a therapist’s office, you stay home and conduct a session via video on your computer, tablet, or phone with your therapist. If video is not an option, your therapist may offer a session on a conference call, a regular telephone call, via email, or text messaging.

With that in mind, you might be wondering how to move your therapy sessions online or how to access new services for mental health issues. The good news is most providers and insurers are responding quickly to the need for increased access to teletherapy for existing patients and people looking to start therapy. 

Will Insurance Cover Online Therapy?

If you’re overwhelmed by all the changes to insurance and access to services, you’re not alone. According to Anna Hindell, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist in New York City, the reason that insurance and telehealth coverage is so confusing is that rules and regulations are rapidly changing during the COVID-19 crisis.

“U.S. Congress expanded coverage for Federal Programs, Medicare, and Medicaid for residents of affected areas, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has even relaxed the ultimatum of HIPAA compliant platforms, though they are still encouraged to be used,” says Hindell.

The most important thing to know about online therapy and insurance, according to Virginia Hill, Senior Insurance Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com, is that coverage is going to depend on your carrier. “Some insurance policies will cover sessions, some will only cover sessions deemed medically necessary, and some don’t cover anything,” she explains.

Moreover, in the wake of COVID-19, Hill says many insurers are only just now trying to figure out how to handle a switch to teletherapy.

Due to social distancing and stay at home orders, many insurance companies have shifted their coverage to include virtual or telehealth therapy. For some insurance companies, these services are not new, but they are now seeing an insurgence of therapists moving to online-only therapy. This transition from in-person to virtual therapy is requiring providers and insurers to provide clear information on their websites about coverage.

Navigating Insurance Issues

The best source of information about what your plan covers is your insurer. Hill says your first stop should be your insurer’s website to see what therapies are covered, how much your copay is, and which therapists accept the insurance.

Also, check to see what documentation you may need to get reimbursed, especially since someone from your insurer can say your therapy is covered, but your claim may still be denied once your insurer reviews all the facts. “You may need to appeal, so keep good records of every conversation you have with your insurer,” says Hill.

“Many carriers will already have coronavirus-specific information already posted to their websites, and a lot of the larger carriers that do cover telehealth have waived copays,” says Hill.

Medicare and Medicaid

One question that’s come up recently regarding online therapy is whether or not Medicare covers it. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the President’s emergency declaration and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services broadened access to Medicare telehealth services to include psychotherapy and other mental health practices.

According to the Medicare website, Medicare Part B covers certain telehealth services such as psychotherapy. For most of the services, you'll pay the same amount that you would if you got the services in person. That said, there are always caveats, and it’s in your best interest to contact the customer service number on your insurance card or ask your provider for more information.

Most importantly, do not give up. If you’ve been told by your insurer that they do not cover teletherapy, keep checking with them. Decisions about how to deliver care are continually changing and being modified.

And finally, if your insurer denies your request for prior authorization, consider filing an appeal.

Options for Paying Without Insurance 

Many therapists, psychologists, and counselors are offering a sliding scale to help provide access to patients who may not have insurance or lack a plan that includes online therapy. Some are lowering costs by as much as 50 percent, while others are offering packages that allow you to purchase multiple sessions at a reduced fee.

If you’re in New York, Hindell says organizations such as the New York State Society of Clinical Social Workers have a list of resources for people searching for low fee therapy. Also, in New York, is a new online guide from ThriveNYC that includes information on how city agencies are modifying mental health services during the COVID-19 crisis.

New York is just one state tackling the mental health needs of their communities. Check with your local mental health agency and state-level health departments for more information about state-wide services where you live. 

Additionally, online resources such as Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, which is a non-profit nationwide network of mental health professionals who charge between $30 to $60 for in-person and online psychotherapy sessions. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has an online comprehensive COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide filled with information about accessing mental health services. 

There are community-based centers that offer a wide variety of low to no-cost care, including mental health and substance abuse services. They are also authorized to provide telehealth services including online therapy. To find out if your community has a center or how to access a center close to you, visit the Federally Qualified Health Centers website.

Subscription Services

And finally, there are online teletherapy websites and apps that offer affordable subscription services, with some now waiving fees or offering new users a free trial. Sites like Talkspace are temporarily offering free therapy services for health care workers and first responders.

And Real, a mental health care platform, is offering various services for free including virtual group meetings and check-ins with therapists. These are just a few examples of affordable online therapy.

A Word From Verywell

Being able to access mental health services is critical at any time, and especially during a crisis. In response to the growing need for support, many private therapists have transitioned to online platforms to continue offering psychotherapy to patients.

Using insurance to pay for teletherapy is becoming more common, and several mental health organizations are offering low-cost sessions for people without insurance. Reaching out to a professional could be the key to helping you manage anxiety, stress, and symptoms of depression during this pandemic.

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