Online therapy offers an array of benefits—therapists might be able to treat more patients virtually than they’re able to physically, and patients are able to receive health care from the comfort of their home or office. The quality of online therapy is just as effective as in-person sessions, too, research finds. Plus, it can be more convenient and a time-saver for patients seeking help for mental health concerns.
Indeed, online therapy is becoming a more widely accepted health benefit. And, since regular therapy sessions can be costly with many relying on health insurance to cover the bill, some insurers are offering options that cover a spectrum of telehealth services.
In fact, before COVID-19, Medicare and many private insurance providers often did not cover telehealth—and if they did, coverage was inconsistent, with some only reimbursing teletherapy done through video, but not over the phone, notes Yasmine Saad, Ph. D., a psychologist and founder and CEO of Madison Park Psychological Services in New York. Now, Medicare allows providers to use telehealth for therapy and other counseling services per the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020, which expanded access to mental health care conducted online.
For Medicare specifically, patients mostly pay the same price for online therapy as in person, according to the agency’s website. Some states have their own rules, however, which require professionals offering certain services such as behavioral health to be licensed in the same state in which the patient lives. So, it’s important to check your coverage beforehand with the therapy service or insurance provider.
Still, coverage for online care depends on your insurance company, not the therapy service. Each online therapy service has guidelines for what insurance plans it accepts, as well as what types of mental health areas are covered by their specialists. You may find a myriad of behavioral health concerns covered, including grief, depression, anxiety, addiction, teen counseling and medication management services with one particular online service. But you may need to pick another for more serious behavioral health conditions.
How Online Therapy Insurance Differs From In-Person Coverage
Online therapy typically costs less than in-person sessions as therapists’ overheads (such as office rent) are reduced, according to Bethany Cook, an adjunct professor and board-certified music therapist in Chicago.
Many states have set rules for fully insured private plans to equally reimburse for online therapy as for in-person care. If you’re interested in getting help online, your first step should be to verify if your policy offers similar benefits as in-person therapy.
In terms of mental health, the 2008 Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires medical professionals to include mental and behavioral health in their offerings. The parity law casts a wide net, generally offering coverage under employer-sponsored health plans for companies with 50 or more employees, coverage purchased through the Affordable Care Act, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and most Medicaid programs.