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WASHINGTON — Tricare, the military’s health insurance provider, is covering telephone appointments and has eliminated copayments for telehealth services as of Wednesday.
The changes will remain in effect through the national emergency, according to a new rule posted on the Federal Register by Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
“These changes will reduce the spread of Covid-19 among Tricare beneficiaries by incentivizing use of telehealth services,” the rule states.
The decision came after Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., urged the Defense Health Agency to cover the full scope of telehealth services under Tricare. The senators particularly wanted to expand service members’ access to mental health care.
In a letter to the Defense Health Agency on May 4, the senators acknowledged that Medicare and Medicaid had lifted restrictions on telehealth and encouraged Tricare to follow suit.
“This is the right call — I’m glad Tricare heeded our concerns and rightly decided to expand coverage for telehealth services for military families at this critical time,” Shaheen said in a statement Wednesday. “This will allow military families to more easily check in with a doctor without unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses, which is especially important now that health advice and counseling is in such high demand and so necessary.”
Existing regulations prevent Tricare from covering telephone appointments in most cases. The new rule posted to the Federal Register created an exemption during the coronavirus pandemic. The rule states that “it is imperative” to allow telephone appointments when medical providers deem it necessary.
With telehealth, Tricare typically requires medical providers to be licensed in the states where their patients live. During the pandemic, Tricare is relaxing its rules. Providers may be licensed in any U.S. state and are allowed to treat patients across state lines.