QUESTION: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we established a telehealth-only plan to provide benefits to individuals who were not eligible for coverage under our regular group health plan. Can we continue to offer this benefit?
ANSWER: During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth-only benefits have been exempt from certain requirements that otherwise apply to group health plans. This relief is linked to the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), which appears slated to end on May 11, 2023 (see our Checkpoint article). Once the exemption is no longer available, a telehealth-only plan may continue but it would have to meet those requirements.
As group health plans, telehealth plans must comply with the many rules applicable to group health plans under ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (see our Checkpoint Question of the Week). The COVID-19 telehealth relief exempts certain plans from the ACA’s prohibition on annual and lifetime limits and its preventive services mandate—but not from other ACA mandates (see our Checkpoint article). The relief applies to any arrangement sponsored by a large employer (generally, one with at least 51 employees) that provides solely telehealth and other remote-care benefits and is offered only to employees or dependents who are not eligible for coverage under any other group health plan offered by that employer.
The relief took effect in 2020 and applies for the duration of any plan year beginning before the end of the COVID-19 PHE. If the PHE ends on May 11, 2023, a calendar year telehealth-only plan could remain covered by the exemption until the end of 2023. But if the plan year is, for example, June 1–May 31, the relief applies only until the end of the current plan year on May 31, 2023; as of June 1, 2023, that plan would have to comply with the preventive services mandate and the prohibition on annual and lifetime limits.
For more information, see EBIA’s Self-Insured Health Plans manual at Section XI.E.5 (“Telehealth”) and EBIA’s Health Care Reform manual at Sections V.N (“Telehealth-Only Plans”) and XIV (“Insurance Mandates”).
Contributing Editors: EBIA Staff.