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Oregon Insurers Agree To Expanded Telehealth Coverage Through 2020

National Cancer Institute via Unsplash

Ten health insurance companies including Providence, Regence, and Kaiser Permanente, as well as the Oregon Health Plan, agreed to continue offering coverage for broad telehealth services, from consultations to routine checkups to mental health coverage.

Telehealth services were expanded at hospitals during of the coronavirus pandemic as a means of reducing the spread of the virus. Now insurers will continue covering those services as if they were in-person visits.

“This news is as much for health care providers as it is for all of us as patients and people who need health care,” says Brad Hilliard, a spokesperson for Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services.

“The agreement helps your health care providers because it gives them confidence that the services they provide are going to be reimbursed by your insurance company,” he says. “It gives you, the patient, the confidence to know that you can get these services by telehealth without having to worry about coverage issues.”

Hilliard says Oregon law requires insurers to cover only a minimum of telehealth services. By continuing to offer expanded coverage for services deemed medically necessary, patients won’t have to worry about a surprise medical bill after talking with their doctor on the phone or by video chat.

It also means hospitals will be paid more for telehealth services, which insurers traditionally pay for with lower rates than in-person visits. Hospitals are also in the process of digging out of severe budget cuts after many patients stopped going to both routine and emergency doctor visits out of fear of catching the virus.

The participating insurers include Bridgespan, PacificSource, Cigna, Providence, Health Net, Regence, Kaiser Permanente, Samaritan, Moda, and United Healthcare, as well as Oregon’s Medicaid program, the Oregon Health Plan.

Self-funded insurance plans do not fall under this agreement, according to Hilliard. Those plans, which are paid for by an employer, are regulated by the federal government. Hilliard says his office has encouraged self-funded insurers to follow the same terms, but they have no requirement to participate.

Copyright 2020 Jefferson Public Radio

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.