How do I know if my insurance covers online therapy?

Online therapy has long been an option, but many people didn’t know much about it. Everything changed during the pandemic. Suddenly it became the default choice for most counseling centers and therapists. many states policy changes enacted early 2020 to ensure that the services you receive through virtual consultation are the same as what you would get in person (service parity) and to ensure that the amount you pay for in-person and online therapy is the same (payment parity).

Before the pandemic, only 16 states had implemented a pay parity system. Once COVID-19 hit, most states adopted policies regarding reimbursement parity — at least for those insured with Medicaid. Two dozen states appear poised to keep their enforcement of political parity intact.

What does this mean for you? You’ll probably be able to find therapy online that doesn’t cost more than in-person sessions. This can be a big help if you have a rigid schedule, don’t live near a therapist’s office, or feeling anxious about an in-person visit.

If you think virtual counseling might be right for you, the trick is to find an online therapy that takes insurance or find an inexpensive online therapist.

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How much does online therapy cost?

Online therapy is not too different of traditional in-person therapy in terms of service and efficiency. This is also true when it comes to insurance coverage. Some virtual therapy providers take no insurance, while others take only certain forms of insurance. In other words, your search for a provider that accepts your coverage will likely be quite similar whether you want in-person or online sessions.

This also applies to the cost of online therapy. Many therapists charge the same amount for online therapy and in-person therapy because they provide the same services. Without insurance, median costs may run between $130 and $200according to TherapyDen, a mental health directory.

To keep costs down, many people are exploring big therapy platforms like BetterHelp (which says that a session costs on average between $60 and $90), or Talkspace (which $99 fee per weekly session).

Fortunately, insurance can help reduce these costs – if your supplier takes out insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, most health plans include cover for mental health services. If you are concerned about the cost of your online therapy, you can seek online therapy from a therapist, counseling center or online platform that takes insurance. Once you’ve found a therapy provider who accepts your coverage, you’ll need to cover your co-pay (usually $10 to $50), pay your deductible, or both.

Do online therapy services take insurance?

Woman in front of a laptop looking at her health insurance card

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About half of therapists and counseling centers does not accept insurance. However, you have options outside of operating your insurance coverage. Many therapy providers offer sliding scale rates that are set according to your income level. This can help reduce the cost of your online therapy. Additionally, some providers and platforms provide financial assistance — the requirement to qualify generally depends on your income level.

Beyond that, even if your therapist is unable to bill your insurer directly, you may consider seeking reimbursement through your policy. If your therapist is absent or in network, you can call your insurer to request reimbursement. If they give you the green light, you can request a refund by going to your provider’s claims portal and submitting your therapist’s bill. While this requires you to be able to pay the therapist’s fee up front, it gives you a way to recoup some of that money.

Does my insurance cover online therapy?

This is the question of the day. While this may simplify the process of finding an online therapy that takes insurance, the much more pressing question is whether your current health insurance policy includes coverage for mental health care.

Mental health coverage varies by insurer and plan. The best way to get all the details you need is to call your insurance provider (if you’re covered by an employer-sponsored plan, contact your human resources team). Either way, here are two useful questions to ask:

1. Does my plan include coverage for mental health services?

2. Can you provide me with a list of network therapy providers?

If they give you a list but it only includes therapists who only offer traditional in-office sessions, you can contact the therapist. Many therapists have offered telehealth visits throughout the pandemic and plan to do so in the future to help their clients.

We’ve outlined coverage options from several of the largest insurers.

Assurance

What the coverage includes

Health Insurance

Medicare Part B covers telehealth services, including virtual therapy and online counseling. Once you reach your Part B deductible, you pay 20% of the cost and Medicare covers the rest.

Etna

Aetna offers plans that include virtual counseling (what they call televideo). For coverage, you will usually need to work with your primary care physician and an Aetna Care Advocate.

United Healthcare

Some United Healthcare plans include mental health coverage and extend to virtual visits when offered by a covered provider. Many plans also cover the services of Talkspace and Sanvello, an on-demand emotional support app.

Blue Cross Blue Shield

Most Blue Cross Blue Shield plans include mental health care coverage, although some employer-sponsored plans do not. If your policy includes coverage, you can use the Teladoc behavioral health service to speak to a therapist with a $0 copayment.

humane

Many Humana plans offer coverage for telehealth visits with a behavioral health specialist.

Anthem

Anthem Blue Cross members have access to LiveHealth Psychology Online with the same copayment as in-person visits.

Cigna

Most Cigna policies include virtual care, including online mental health care. They also cover Chat room services.

Kaiser

Many Kaiser plans include mental health coverage. Kaiser can also help you find a therapist. You no reference needed to access mental health care through your Kaiser plan.

centene

Although Centene does not offer its own plans, most plans in its marketplace come through Ambetter, which partners with Teladoc to offer virtual tours. These telehealth offers do not explicitly mention mental health care. If you are covered by either, it is best to contact your plan provider for full details.

If your insurer covers mental health care and your therapist accepts it, you’ll pay your co-payment or deductible as you would for any doctor’s visit. If you are charged a different amount, you should contact your insurer. The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires insurers to establish the same financial requirements for mental health care as for physical health care.

What to do if your insurance doesn’t cover online therapy

If your insurance policy doesn’t cover mental health coverage — a relatively common problem for workplace plans or those developed before the ACA — you can explore other options.

Here are some of the best ways to find virtual advice that fits your budget:

  • Look for sliding scale options or discounted rates. A sliding scale fee structure can help you find more affordable therapy. With a sliding scale, the rate charged by your therapist is based on a factor specific to you. In almost all cases, it’s your income. This means that the less you bring home, the less your treatment will cost.
  • Look for community mental health centers. If there is a mental health center in your area, contact their team and ask what they offer. Some local centers have financial assistance to help community members. Although they cannot offer you financial assistance, they may offer alternative and more affordable forms of therapy that you can explore, such as group sessions or one-time workshops.
  • Explore employee assistance programs. Some employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs). Contact your HR team to see if something like this exists in your company. In many cases, the EAP will cover the cost of a fixed amount of mental health services (for example, six free sessions per year).
  • Students, check with your college or look for discounts. Most colleges offer some level of free therapy to their students. This may be with your campus counselor. Many online therapy platforms, like BetterHelp, also offer student discounts.
  • If you live in an area with a university that has a graduate training clinic, contact them. Most training clinics offer low cost therapy. You will be matched with a future therapist who is still learning the ropes, but you can significantly reduce the cost of your sessions by choosing this route.
  • Look for free therapy services. Some therapists offer their services for free, and this is especially true with virtual tours, as they can be more convenient for both of you. You can try contacting therapists in your area to see if they are willing to offer you free online therapy sessions.

If you are in a difficult situation and need free help now, you can call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or, if you read this after July 16, 2022, by dialing 988.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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