• Max Hauptman

No more free telehealth appointments for troops, military families who use Tricare

BY MAX HAUPTMAN | TASK & PURPOSE

After more than two years, copayments for medical appointments conducted over phone are video are returning.

The policy update was posted to the Federal Register in June and scheduled to go into effect in July, although an actual date for when those payments will return has apparently not yet been determined.

According to Military.com, a spokesman for the Defense Health Agency said that Tricare will establish an actual timeline, at a later date, for when those payments will once again be required.

The rapid expansion of telehealth – medical appointments conducted over the phone or video conferencing – began in 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was spreading around the country. Since May, 2020, copayments have been waived for those medical and mental health appointments.

Of course, that has also come at a cost. Tricare has spent almost $100 million – $20.6 million in 2020 and $71.4 million in fiscal year 2021 – covering the cost of these waived fees.

“The Defense Health Plan faces significant budget shortfalls. Termination of this provision will save the DoD $4.8M for every month it expires prior to the end of the national emergency, allowing DoD to focus resources on testing, vaccination efforts, and treatment for Covid-19-positive patients,” wrote the agency in the June termination notice.

While the copay waiver is going away, though, telehealth appointments are apparently here to stay. While they had initially only been offered to service members, dependents and retirees on a temporary basis at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the service will now become permanent.

According to the Federal Register, analysis of public comments by the Department of Defense found that the service was quite popular, and that Tricare users wanted it expanded to cover a variety of medical and mental health visits.

“We do not expect termination of this provision to have any impact on access to care, as beneficiaries will continue to have access to telehealth services and will be able to choose to continue using such services, or to visit their provider in-person, with the same cost-share applied to the service regardless of the modality through which it was delivered,” reads the June ruling.

So, you’ll still be able to check in with your doctor over the phone, it just might cost a little more.


Author: Max Hauptman

Source: Task & Purpose: No more free telehealth appointments for troops, military families who use Tricare