Are you an employer that offers or provides group health coverage to your workers? Does your health plan cover outpatient prescription drugs — either as a medical claim or through a card system? If so, be sure to distribute your plan’s Medicare Part D notice before October 15.
Medicare began offering “Part D” plans — optional prescription drug benefit plans sold by private insurance companies and HMOs — to Medicare beneficiaries many years ago. People may enroll in a Part D plan when they first become eligible for Medicare.
If they wait too long, a late enrollment penalty amount is permanently added to the Part D plan premium cost when they do enroll. There is an exception, though, for individuals who are covered under an employer’s group health plan that provides creditable coverage. (“Creditable” means that the group plan’s drug benefits are actuarially equivalent or better than the benefits required in a Part D plan.) In that case, the individual can delay enrolling for a Part D plan while he or she remains covered under the employer’s creditable plan. Medicare will waive the late enrollment premium penalty for individuals who enroll in a Part D plan after their initial eligibility date if they were covered by an employer’s creditable plan. To avoid the late enrollment penalty, there cannot be a gap longer than 62 days between the creditable group plan and the Part D plan.
To help Medicare-eligible plan participants make informed decisions about whether and when to enroll in a Part D drug plan, they need to know if their employer’s group health plan provides creditable or noncreditable prescription drug coverage. That is the purpose of the federal requirement for employers to provide an annual notice (Employer’s Medicare Part D Notice) to all Medicare-eligible employees and spouses.
Federal law requires all employers that offer group health coverage including any outpatient prescription drug benefits to provide an annual notice to plan participants.
The notice requirement applies regardless of the employer’s size or whether the group plan is insured or self-funded:
- Determine whether your group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is creditable or noncreditable for the upcoming year (2022). If your plan is insured, the carrier/HMO will confirm creditable or noncreditable status. Keep a copy of the written confirmation for your records. For self-funded plans, the plan actuary will determine the plan’s status using guidance provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
- Distribute a Notice of Creditable Coverage or a Notice of Noncreditable Coverage, as applicable, to all group health plan participants who are or may become eligible for Medicare in the next year. “Participants” include covered employees and retirees (and spouses) and COBRA enrollees. Employers often do not know whether a particular participant may be eligible for Medicare due to age or disability. For convenience, many employers decide to distribute their notice to all participants regardless of Medicare status.
- Notices must be distributed at least annually before October 15. Medicare holds its Part D enrollment period each year from October 15 to December 7, which is why it is important for group health plan participants to receive their employer’s notice before October 15.
- Notices also may be required after October 15 for new enrollees and/or if the plan’s creditable versus noncreditable status changes.
Preparing the Notice(s)
Model notices are available on the CMS website. Start with the model notice and then fill in the blanks and variable items as needed for each group health plan. There are two versions: Notice of Creditable Coverage or Notice of Noncreditable Coverage and each is available in English and Spanish:
Employers who offer multiple group health plan options, such as PPOs, HDHPs, and HMOs, may use one notice if all options are creditable (or all are noncreditable). In this case, it is advisable to list the names of the various plan options so it is clear for the reader. Conversely, employers that offer a creditable plan and a noncreditable plan, such as a creditable HMO and a noncreditable HDHP, will need to prepare separate notices for the different plan participants.
Distributing the Notice(s)
You may distribute the notice by first-class mail to the employee’s home or work address. A separate notice for the employee’s spouse or family members is not required unless the employer has information that they live at different addresses.
The notice is intended to be a stand-alone document. It may be distributed at the same time as other plan materials, but it should be a separate document. If the notice is incorporated with other material (such as stapled items or in a booklet format), the notice must appear in 14-point font, be bolded, offset, or boxed, and placed on the first page. Alternatively, in this case, you can put a reference (in 14-point font, either bolded, offset, or boxed) on the first page telling the reader where to find the notice within the material. Here is suggested text from the CMS for the first page:
“If you (and/or your dependents) have Medicare or will become eligible for Medicare in the next 12 months, a federal law gives you more choices about your prescription drug coverage. Please see page XX for more details.”
Email distribution is allowed but only for employees who have regular access to email as an integral part of their job duties. Employees also must have access to a printer, be notified that a hard copy of the notice is available at no cost upon request, and be informed that they are responsible for sharing the notice with any Medicare-eligible family members who are enrolled in the employer’s group plan.
CMS Disclosure Requirement
Separate from the participant notice requirement, employers also must disclose to the CMS whether their group health plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage. To submit your plan’s disclosure, use the CMS online tool and follow the prompts. The process usually takes only 5 or 10 minutes to complete. It is due with 60 days after the start of the plan year; for instance, for calendar year plans that will be March 1, 2022. If the plan’s prescription drug coverage ends or its status as creditable or noncreditable changes, submit a new disclosure within 30 days of the change.
By Kathleen A. Berger
Originally posted on Mineral
On July 1, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury (collectively, the Departments), along with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released an interim final rule with comment period (IFC), entitled “Requirements Related to Surprise Billing; Part I.” This rule related to Title I (the No Surprises Act) of Division BB of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 establishes new protections from surprise billing and excessive cost-sharing for consumers receiving health care items and services. This IFC implements many of the law’s requirements for group health plans, health insurance issuers, carriers under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program, health care providers and facilities, and air ambulance service providers.
Background – Surprise Billing & the Need for Greater Protections
Most group health plans and health insurance issuers that offer group or individual health insurance coverage have a network of providers and health care facilities (in-network providers) that agree to accept a specific payment amount for their services. Providers and facilities that are not part of a plan’s or issuer’s network (out-of-network providers) usually charge higher amounts than the contracted rates the plans and issuers pay to in-network providers.
When a person with health insurance coverage gets care from an out-of-network provider, their health plan or issuer usually does not cover the entire out-of-network cost, leaving the person with higher costs than if they had been seen by an in-network provider. In many cases, the out-of-network provider may bill the individual for the difference between the billed charge and the amount paid by their plan or insurance, unless prohibited by state law. This is known as “balance billing.”
A “balance bill” may come as a surprise for many people. A surprise medical bill is an unexpected bill from a health care provider or facility. This can happen when a person with health insurance unknowingly gets medical care from a provider or facility outside their health plan’s network. Surprise billing happens in both emergency and non-emergency care.
In an emergency, an individual usually goes (or is taken) to the nearest emergency department. Even if they go to an in-network hospital for emergency care, they might get care from out-of-network providers at that facility.
For non-emergency care, an individual might choose an in-network facility or an in-network provider, but not know that a provider involved in their care (for example, an anesthesiologist or radiologist) is an out-of-network provider. In both emergency and non-emergency circumstances, the person might not be able to choose the provider or ensure that all of their care is from a participating provider. In addition to getting a bill for their cost-sharing amount (like co-payments, co-insurances, and any applicable deductibles), which tends to be higher for these out-of-network services, the individual might also get a balance bill from the out-of-network provider or facility. This is especially common in the context of air ambulance services, for which individuals generally do not have the ability to choose an air ambulance provider and have little or no control over whether the provider is in-network with their plan or coverage.
When individuals do not have an opportunity to select in-network providers, their health care costs go up overall. Surprise billing is often used as leverage by providers to get higher in-network payments, which result in higher premiums, higher cost sharing for consumers, and increased health care spending overall. Studies have shown that surprise bills can be high.
A recent study found that payments made to providers by people who got a surprise bill for emergency care were more than 10 times higher than those made by other individuals for the same care.
Out-of-network cost sharing and surprise bills usually do not count toward a person’s deductible and maximum out-of-pocket limit. Individuals with surprise bills may have to spend more out-of-pocket because they have to pay their out-of-network cost sharing and surprise billing amounts regardless of whether they have met their deductible and maximum out-of-pocket limits. Nine percent of individuals who got surprise bills paid more than $400 to providers, which may result in financial distress for consumers, given recent findings that show 40% of Americans struggle to find $400 to pay for an unexpected bill.,
Studies have shown that in the period from 2010-2016, more than 39% of emergency department visits to in-network hospitals resulted in an out-of-network bill, increasing to 42.8% in 2016. During the same period, the average amount of a surprise medical bill also increased from $220 to $628.
Although some states have enacted laws to reduce or eliminate balance billing, these efforts have created a patchwork of consumer protections. Even in a state that has enacted protections, they typically only apply to individuals enrolled in health insurance coverage, as federal law generally preempts state laws that regulate self-insured group health plans sponsored by private employers. In addition, states have limited power to address surprise bills that involve an out-of-state provider.
Summary of IFC
This IFC protects individuals from surprise medical bills for emergency services, air ambulance services provided by out-of-network providers, and non-emergency services provided by out-of-network providers at in-network facilities in certain circumstances.
If a plan or coverage provides or covers any benefits for emergency services, this IFC requires emergency services to be covered:
Without any prior authorization (i.e., approval beforehand).
Regardless of whether the provider is an in-network provider or an in-network emergency facility.
Regardless of any other term or condition of the plan or coverage other than the exclusion or coordination of benefits, or a permitted affiliation or waiting period.
Emergency services include certain services in an emergency department of a hospital or an independent freestanding emergency department, as well as post-stabilization services in certain instances.
This IFC also limits cost sharing for out-of-network services subject to these protections to no higher than in-network levels, requires such cost sharing to count toward any in-network deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, and prohibits balance billing. These limitations apply to out-of-network emergency services, air ambulance services furnished by out-of-network providers, and certain non-emergency services furnished by out-of-network providers at certain in-network facilities, including hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.
This IFC specifies that consumer cost-sharing amounts for emergency services provided by out-of-network emergency facilities and out-of-network providers, and certain non-emergency services furnished by out-of-network providers at certain in-network facilities, must be calculated based on one of the following amounts:
An amount determined by an applicable All-Payer Model Agreement under section 1115A of the Social Security Act.
If there is no such applicable All-Payer Model Agreement, an amount determined under a specified state law.
If neither of the above apply, the lesser amount of either the billed charge or the qualifying payment amount, which is generally the plan’s or issuer’s median contracted rate.
Similarly, cost-sharing amounts for air ambulance services provided by out-of-network providers must be calculated using the lesser of the billed charge or the plan’s or issuer’s qualifying payment amount, and the cost sharing requirement must be the same as if services were provided by an in-network air ambulance provider.
Under this IFC, surprise billing for items and services covered by the rule generally is not allowed.
Determining Out-of-Network Rates:
Under this IFC, the total amount to be paid to the provider or facility, including any cost sharing, is based on:
An amount determined by an applicable All-Payer Model Agreement under section 1115A of the Social Security Act.
If there is no such applicable All-Payer Model Agreement, an amount determined by a specified state law.
If there is no such applicable All-Payer Model Agreement or specified state law, an amount agreed upon by the plan or issuer and the provider or facility.
If none of the three conditions above apply, an amount determined by an independent dispute resolution (IDR) entity.
The Departments intend to issue regulations soon regarding IDR entities and the IDR process.
In limited cases, a provider or facility can provide notice to a person regarding potential out-of-network care, and obtain the individual’s consent for that out-of-network care and extra costs. However, this exception does not apply in certain situations when surprise bills are likely to happen, like for specified ancillary services connected to non-emergency care, such as anesthesiology or radiology services provided at an in-network healthcare facility.
Notice to Consumers:
This IFC requires certain health care providers and facilities to make publicly available, post on a public website, and provide to individuals a one-page notice about:
The requirements and prohibitions applicable to the provider or facility under Public Health Service Act sections 2799B-1 and 2799B-2 and their implementing regulations.
Any applicable state balance billing limitations or prohibitions.
How to contact appropriate state and federal agencies if someone believes the provider or facility has violated the requirements described in the notice.
Applicability Date & Comment Period
The regulations are generally applicable to group health plans and health insurance issuers for plan and policy years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. The HHS-only regulations that apply to health care providers, facilities, and providers of air ambulance services are applicable beginning on January 1, 2022. The OPM-only regulations that apply to carriers under the FEHB Program are applicable to contract years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. Written comments must be received by 5 p.m. 60 days after display in the Federal Register to be considered.
Visit https://www.cms.gov/files/document/cms-9909-ifc-surprise-billing-disclaimer-50.pdf to read more about the interim final rule.
Originally posted on CMS.gov
 Cooper, Z. et al., Surprise! Out-of-Network Billing for Emergency Care in the United States, NBER Working Paper 23623, 20173623; Duffy, E. et al., Policies to Address Surprise Billing Can Affect Health Insurance Premiums. The American Journal of Managed Care 26.9 (2020): 401-404; and Brown E.C.F., et al., The Unfinished Business of Air Ambulance Bills, Health Affairs Blog (March 26, 2021), doi: 10.1377/hblog20210323.911379, available at https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20210323.911379/full/.
Biener, A. et al., Emergency Physicians Recover a Higher Share of Charges from Out-of-network Care than from In-network Care, Health Affairs 40.4 (2021): 622-628.
Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. Report on the Economic Wellbeing of U.S. Households in 2018. (May 2019). Available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/2018-report-economic-well-being-us-households-201905.pdf.
 Sun, E.C., et al. “Assessment of Out-of-Network Billing for Privately Insured Patients Receiving Care in In-network Hospitals.” JAMA Internal Medicine, 179.11 (2019): 1543-1550. Doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.3451.
 States that have enacted balance billing protections include Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.
Do you offer coverage to your employees through a self-insured group health plan? Do you sponsor a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)? If so, do you know whether your plan or HRA is subject to the annual Patient-Centered Research Outcomes Institute (PCORI) fee?
This article answers frequently-asked questions about the PCORI fee, which plans are affected, and what you need to do as the employer sponsor. PCORI fees for 2020 health plans and HRAs are due August 2, 2021.
What is the PCORI fee?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to study clinical effectiveness and health outcomes. To finance the nonprofit institute’s work, a small annual fee is charged on health plans.
Most employers do not have to take any action because most employer-sponsored health plans are provided through group insurance contracts. For insured plans, the carrier is responsible for the PCORI fee and the employer has no duties.
If, however, you are an employer that self-insures a health plan or an HRA, it is your responsibility to determine whether PCORI applies and, if so, to calculate, report, and pay the fee.
The annual PCORI fee is equal to the average number of lives covered during the health plan year, multiplied by the applicable dollar amount:
- If the plan year end date was between January 1 and September 30, 2020: $2.54.
- If the plan year end date was between October 1 and December 31, 2020: $2.66.
Payment is due by July 31 following the end of the calendar year in which the plan year ended. If July 31 falls on a weekend, the due date is the next following business day. So the due date for plan years ending in 2020 is August 2, 2021.
Does the PCORI fee apply to all health plans?
The fee applies to all health plans and HRAs, excluding the following:
- Plans that primarily provide “excepted benefits” (e.g., stand-alone dental and vision plans, most health flexible spending accounts with little or no employer contributions, and certain supplemental or gap-type plans).
- Plans that do not provide significant benefits for medical care or treatment (e.g., employee assistance, disease management, and wellness programs).
- Stop-loss insurance policies.
- Health savings accounts (HSAs).
The IRS provides a helpful chart indicating the types of health plans that are, or are not, subject to the PCORI fee.
If I have multiple self-insured plans, does the fee apply to each one?
Yes. For instance, if you self-insure one medical plan for active employees and another medical plan for retirees, you will need to calculate, report, and pay the fee for each plan. There is an exception, though, for “multiple self-insured arrangements” that are sponsored by the same employer, cover the same participants, and have the same plan year. For example, if you self-insure a medical plan with a self-insured prescription drug plan, you would pay the PCORI fee only once with respect to the combined plan.
Does the fee apply to HRAs?
Yes. The PCORI fee applies to HRAs, which are self-insured health plans, although the fee is waived in some cases. If you self-insure another plan, such as a major medical or high deductible plan, and the HRA is merely a component of that plan, you do not have to pay the PCORI fee separately for the HRA. In other words, when the HRA is integrated with another self-insured plan, you only pay the fee once for the combined plan.
On the other hand, if the HRA stands alone, or if the HRA is integrated with an insured plan, you are responsible for paying the fee for the HRA.
What about QSEHRAs? Does the fee apply?
Yes. A Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) is special type of tax-advantaged arrangement that allows small employers to reimburse certain health costs for their workers. Although a QSEHRA is not the same as an HRA, and the rules applying to each type are very different, a QSEHRA is a self-insured health plan for purposes of the PCORI fee. The IRS provides guidance confirming that small employers that offer QSEHRAs must calculate, report and pay the PCORI fee.
What about ICHRAs and EBHRAs? Does the fee apply?
An Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangement (ICHRA) is a new type of tax-advantaged arrangement, first offered in 2020, that allows employers to reimburse certain health costs for their workers. The IRS has not provided specific guidance regarding ICHRAs and the PCORI fee, but it appears the fee applies since an ICHRA is a self-insured health plan.
An Excepted Benefits Health Reimbursement Arrangement (EBHRA) also is a self-insured health plan but it is limited to “excepted benefits,” such as dental and vision care costs. So the PCORI fee does not apply to EBHRAs.
Can I use ERISA plan assets or employee contributions to pay the fee?
No. The PCORI fee is an employer expense and not a plan expense, so you cannot use ERISA plan assets or employee contributions to pay the fee. (An exception is allowed for certain multiemployer plans (e.g., union trusts) subject to collective bargaining.) Since the fee is paid by the employer as a business expense, it is tax deductible.
How do I calculate the fee?
Multiply $2.54 or $2.66 (depending on the date the plan year ended in 2020) times the average number of lives covered during the plan year. “Covered lives” are all participants, including employees, dependents, retirees, and COBRA enrollees.
You may use any one of the following counting methods to determine the average number of lives:
- Average Count Method: Count the number of lives covered on each day of the plan year, then divide by the number of days in the plan year.
- Snapshot Method: Count the number of lives covered on the same day each quarter, then divide by the number of quarters (e.g., four). Or count the lives covered on the first of each month, then divide by the number of months (e.g., 12). This method also allows the option — called the “snapshot factor method” — of counting each primary enrollee (e.g., employee) with single coverage as “1” and counting each primary enrollee with family coverage as “2.35.”
- Form 5500 Method: Add together the “beginning of plan year” and “end of plan year” participant counts reported on the Form 5500 for the plan year. There is no need to count dependents using this method since the IRS assumes the sum of the beginning and ending of year counts is close enough to the total number of covered lives. If the plan is employee-only without dependent coverage, divide the sum by 2. (If Form 5500 for the plan year ending in 2020 is not filed by August 2, 2021, you cannot use this counting method.)
- Any Reasonable Method: This method is an exception allowed only for plan years ending between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020. Typically, only the first three methods above are allowed. The IRS recognizes, however, that plan sponsors may not have tracked counts using those methods since the fee had expired before it was unexpectedly reinstated by Congress in late 2019. In Notice 2020-44, the IRS explains that plan sponsors may use any reasonable method to determine the plan’s average number of covered lives
For an HRA, QSEHRA or ICHRA, count only the number of primary participants (employees) and disregard any dependents.
How do I report and pay the fee?
Use Form 720, Quarterly Excise Tax Return, to report and pay the annual PCORI fee. Report all information for self-insured plan(s) with plan year ending dates in 2020 on the same Form 720. Do not submit more than one Form 720 for the same period with the same Employer Identification Number (EIN), unless you are filing an amended return.
The IRS provides Instructions for Form 720. Here is a quick summary of the items for PCORI:
- Fill in the employer information at the top of the form.
- In Part II, complete line 133(c) and/or line 133(d), as applicable, depending on the plan year ending date(s). If you are reporting multiple plans on the same line, combine the information.
- In Part II, complete line 2 (total).
- In Part III, complete lines 3 and 10.
- Sign and date Form 720 where indicated.
- If paying by check or money order, also complete the payment voucher (Form 720-V) provided on the last page of Form 720. Be sure to fill in the circle for “2nd Quarter.” Refer to the Instructions for mailing information.
Caution! Before taking any action, confirm with your tax department or controller whether your organization files Form 720 for any purposes other than the PCORI fee. For instance, some employers use Form 720 to make quarterly payments for environmental taxes, fuel taxes, or other excise taxes. In that case, do not prepare Form 720 (or the payment voucher), but instead give the PCORI fee information to your organization’s tax preparer to include with its second quarterly filing.
If you self-insure one or more health plans or sponsor an HRA, you may be responsible for calculating, reporting, and paying annual PCORI fees. The fee is based on the average number of lives covered during the health plan year. The IRS offers a choice of different counting methods to calculate the plan’s average covered lives. Once you have determined the count, the process for reporting and paying the fee using Form 720 is fairly simple. For plan years ending in 2020, the deadline to file Form 720 and make your payment is August 2, 2021.
By Kathleen A. Berger, CEBS
Originally posted on Trustmineral.com
You have surely heard the terms “in-network” and “out-of-network” when referring to doctors or care facilities and your insurance plan. It can be confusing and make you wonder why it matters to you, as the consumer. Let’s explore these terms and find out more!
What are Health Insurance Plan Networks?
Health insurance plans create networks of doctors and facilities with which they have contracted to accept negotiated rates for the services they provide. When you subscribe to a specific insurance plan, you can look up the list of these contracted providers to see which ones are “in-network.” Most plans have helpful search tools online like “Find a Doctor” to save you time as you look for your specific doctor. You can also call the facility or healthcare provider and ask if they are considered “in-network” or “out-of-network” for your particular health insurance plan.
Why Choose “In-network” Providers?
When you make the choice to see an “in-network” healthcare provider or visit an “in-network” facility, you will typically pay less for the service (doctor visit, screening, hospital stay, etc.) than if you chose to use a provider outside of the plan’s network. Your insurance plan has negotiated a discounted cost for the service and passes that savings on to you, the subscriber. See the table below for an example.
Additional Benefit to “In-Network” Care
Some health insurance plans allow you to visit “out-of-network” doctors and facilities with the understanding that you will pay more for these services since they are not in an agreement with one another. However, you may not be able to apply these expenses towards your annual deductible. This means it may take you longer in the year, with more out-of-pocket expenses, to reach your deductible. Staying “in-network” alleviates this delay and any added costs.
Staying with “in-network” providers truly equals greater cost-savings to the consumer. By doing a little research upfront to find the doctors and facilities in your plan network, you will end up with less out-of-pocket expenses for your health care each year. While the choice is ultimately up to you on who you see for your care, looking within your plan network will reap you great benefits.
According to WebMD, the eyes are the most highly developed sensory organs in your body. They report that more of your brain is dedicated to the sense of sight than to all of the other senses combined. So, it makes sense that you would do all that you can to protect and care for these important organs. Vision insurance can be a great asset as you work keep your eyes healthy.
What is vision insurance?
Vision insurance is an insurance product used to reduce the costs of eye-related care, eye products, and eye surgeries. Group vision plans are typically purchased through employers, associations, or government programs like Medicare or Medicaid. Sometimes, vision plans are part of a value-added benefit that is linked to the subscriber’s health insurance. Plan subscribers usually receive free eye care, like annual eye exams, and a fixed discount on eye wear in exchange for a monthly premium. This type of coverage is recommended for people who need vision correction devices, who have a family history of eye issues, or for those who have a higher risk of eye disease, like diabetics.
What is a vision discount program?
Different from vision insurance, a vision discount program gives users discounts on eye exam services and products. The monthly premium is lower for discount programs but does not generally include free annual eye exams like vision insurance does. When the user buys into the discount program, they become a member of a large group for whom the program administrators have negotiated lower costs. Discount programs are most useful for those without pre-existing eye conditions.
What are the benefits of having vision coverage?
As mentioned before, your eyes are the most complex sensory organ in your body. Because of this, they are important to keep healthy and in good working condition. Vision coverage allows the user to have annual eye exams. At these exams, the optometrist determines if you need corrective lenses to improve your eyesight by means of glasses or contact lenses. The doctor will also check for eye diseases. Exams can even detect hidden medical conditions like brain tumors, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, or thyroid disease. If a medical condition is detected, the optometrist will refer the patient to a medical doctor for further tests and treatment.
Vision insurance and discount programs play a huge part in keeping your eyes healthy. Through regular eye exams, not only are your eyes evaluated, but the health of the rest of your body is, too. By scheduling eye exams, you are also able to obtain corrective eye wear that allow you to see clearer and without eye strain. Healthy vision is a benefit you don’t want to lose!
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare system in the US has changed. More and more, people are seeking out telemedicine services versus the traditional brick and mortar physician’s office. This trend also includes telemental health services as well. So what are the advantages of these services and how are they growing to meet the need?
The COVID-19 pandemic definitely thrust the use of telemedicine forward but many health care providers have been using this type of service for years. What the pandemic did do is encourage patients’ use of the telehealth services already in place. Telehealth is defined as “the practice of communicating electronically with a physician, typically via telephone or video chat.” While our hospitals and doctors’ offices have been overcrowded with very sick COVID-19 patients, use of telemedicine has allowed the burden felt in these locations to be lessened. Patients call in for routine exams and are many times seen and treated faster than if they came in to the physical office location.
Advantages to Telehealth Services
According to a survey by FAIR Health, there has been a 8,336% increase nationally in the use of telehealth from April 2019 to April 2020. Advantages of this increase and use include:
- Enabling patients to follow shelter-in-place restrictions by staying home and away from hospitals, except for emergencies
- Minimizing risk to health care workers and patients by limiting exposure to the coronavirus and other diseases
- Facilitating services for chronic patient monitoring, follow-up visits, therapy appointments and post-operative care
- Employees see the offering of telemedicine benefits as a huge priority in examining employment options
Advantages to Telemental Health Services
Like Telehealth services, use of Telemental Health services have also increased this year. A recent mental health survey says that 7 in 10 employees cite the COVID-19 pandemic as being the most stressful time in their careers. Caring for children who are out of school, caring for loved ones, financial issues, and stress from job changes are some of the issues that employees are facing. Business owners see the benefit of telemental health as their employees’ access these services in higher numbers. High levels of stress have been known to result in lower productivity, lower morale, and higher absenteeism. Advantages for telemental health include:
- The provision of telemental health services to patients living in rural and under-served areas has significantly reduced psychiatric hospitalization rates.
- Low-income, homebound seniors experienced longer lasting effects of telemental health than those who received in-person mental health services.
- Mental health providers rarely have to perform any physical services on their patients, so telemental health is more plausible than other types of telehealth services.
- There is little or no difference in patient satisfaction with telemental health when compared with face-to-face mental health consultations.
- Although mental health professionals are in short supply, mobile devices are not.
There are some significant advantages to the use of telemedicine services. Zywave explains, “Virtual healthcare is emerging as a viable solution to help lessen the burden on healthcare facilities and staff while still providing individuals with the care they need.” Tele-services also reach more of the under-served population both for health care and mental health care. As consumers gain confidence in virtual living, the call for telemedicine will also grow.