COVID-19

Copays no longer waived for some telehealth visits

Kristin Schwab Oct 1, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Copays for virtual doctor appointments that were waived at the beginning of the pandemic are coming back. Geber86/Getty Images
COVID-19

Copays no longer waived for some telehealth visits

Kristin Schwab Oct 1, 2020
Copays for virtual doctor appointments that were waived at the beginning of the pandemic are coming back. Geber86/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

At the beginning of this pandemic, many insurance companies started waiving copays for telehealth visits to encourage people to stay home and to reduce stress on hospitals and health care facilities. And it worked: Telehealth visits rose more than 13% at their peak this summer.

Now, some major health insurers, including UnitedHealthcare and Anthem, are reversing course and will start charging fees starting Oct. 1. It means the cost of seeing a doctor virtually could be the same as the cost of going in person.

But not all patients view online and in-person care as equal. It’s why Dr. Chad Ellimoottil still dresses up for work, even on days when all his appointments are virtual.

“The video takes a little formality out of it, so I kind of raise the formality by wearing a white coat,” he said Ellimoottil, a urologist who directs the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation’s Telehealth Research Incubator.

Dressing the part is important because he wants patients to know they’re getting the same treatment online as they would in person. And Reintroducing copays could make them scrutinize virtual visits even more.

“There’s no doubt that it will leave some people less interested in doing a video consultation,” he said.

And that’s really part of the point, to push patients back to seeing a doctor in person. Because people have been putting off important exams and procedures that couldn’t be done virtually.

“That led to a lot of morbidity and mortality at home because they were so scared to get care,” said Ateev Mehrotra, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. He said during the pandemic, in-patient care has dropped by 60%.

Insurance companies might also be worried that no copays meant too many people were making virtual appointments for fairly minor complaints.

“Cost sharing is thought to help reduce unnecessary visits. Or at least that’s the theory,” said Brietta Clark, professor of health care law at Loyola Marymount University.

But she said copays, which can cost as much as $100, can discourage people from getting necessary medical help. And reintroducing them will force some people to go back to weighing what’s more important: putting dinner on the table or seeing a doctor.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

Read More

Collapse

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.