As the world continues to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers are taking every possible step to ensure the safety of their staff members and their patients. Social distancing recommendations have made online therapy particularly possible, making accessing therapy safer and more convenient. However, while online therapy is easily accessible, it may or may not be covered by your insurance depending on the provider you have and where you live. You may also not be able to use online therapy for certain types of visits or before you’re prescribed medication.
What is Online Therapy?
Online therapy, sometimes referred to as “teletherapy,” is a medical care service that allows a mental health professional or psychiatrist to offer services over the internet or otherwise in a remote location from the patient. During an online therapy appointment, you’ll receive the same services that you would normally receive during an in-person visit. More mental healthcare service providers are offering online therapy after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the mental health struggles that you may be able to treat with online therapy can include:
- Substance abuse issues
- Anger management
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
In most cases, online therapy is offered in real-time through a video conference or over the phone. Therapists typically use HIPAA-compliant software (like Zoom or Bluejeans) to conduct sessions, as these apps use encryption that other communication methods do not. Most therapists avoid scheduling services using apps like Facetime and Skype because they do not provide a sufficient level of encryption to keep your personal information confidential.
In some cases, you might receive online therapy through a delayed format—for example, you might communicate with your therapist over email or even through text messages. If you choose to schedule therapy sessions using text-based services, remember that not all phone carriers use encryption. However, text messaging can be an ideal way to follow up between sessions and to reach out in the event of a crisis. Like an office visit, your health insurance provider must cover remote counseling services to use these benefits.
You might prefer online therapy that extends beyond keeping yourself safe during the COVID-19 pandemic for many reasons. Some of the benefits of online therapy include the following.
- Convenience: Because you don’t need to worry about driving to an office to receive therapy, online therapy can be a great choice for anyone looking for a more flexible way to schedule their services. This can also be a major benefit for anyone who works during the standard 9-to-5 hours and who needs to schedule around their work and family obligations.
- Cost: Many online therapy options cost less than traditional in-person therapy. If you don’t have health insurance, subscription-based models like BetterHelp and Talkspace can provide you with an affordable way to access counseling services. If you do have insurance, you’ll often be able to access lower-cost therapy when you choose online services, as this allows your mental healthcare provider to more easily customize the length of your sessions.
- Enhanced privacy: All therapists must adhere to HIPAA standards, which keep your medical records and information confidential. However, there’s always the chance that you’ll run into someone who you know when leaving your therapist’s office. If you’re very sensitive about the fact that you’re seeking mental help assistance or you’d prefer to ensure that you’re the only one who knows that you receive therapy, online therapy can provide an enhanced level of privacy. Online therapy also relies on technology that takes advantage of encryption to keep your data and personal information private.
- Accessibility: If you live in a remote or very rural area, you might need to drive for miles to find a therapist offering in-person sessions who accepts your insurance. This means that therapy is not equally accessible in all parts of the country. Online therapy bridges the gap in availability by allowing you to access instant care no matter where you are. It can also be an ideal solution for anyone who travels frequently or whose work schedule varies from week to week, as online therapy scheduling is more flexible.
It's important to note that there are some circumstances where you may be required to see a therapist in person. Though online therapy is convenient, virtual communication makes it more difficult for your therapist to interpret nonverbal cues. Your therapist might request that you meet in person when you begin seeing one another in order to get a more accurate assessment of the types of treatments that may be beneficial for you. If you’re seeing a psychiatrist, you may be required to meet in person before the doctor will prescribe you a controlled substance to combat your mental health struggles.
Will Health Insurance Cover Online Therapy?
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, therapy providers were quick to respond and began offering enhanced online therapy options. In response, many insurance companies also loosened regulations on when medical coverage can be used for therapy. Depending on where you live, there may even still be COVID-19 regulations in place that prevent you from meeting with your therapist in person. It’s now more common than ever before for insurance companies to allow you to use your benefits for online therapy.
The specifics of when online therapy will and will not be covered vary depending on the insurance provider you work with. Some insurance providers offer plans that cover all online therapy appointments; others will only cover therapy appointments that are deemed medically necessary by your primary care provider. Some will not cover any form of online therapy. If you aren’t sure if your insurance will cover online therapy, consult with a representative who works with your insurance provider to be sure that you’re covered before you book your first appointment.
Make Sure Your Therapist Accepts Insurance
Another important thing to keep in mind is that not every therapist accepts health insurance. Therapy sessions not booked by individual care providers (for example, BetterHelp and similar platforms) typically do not accept insurance.
If you’re having trouble finding a therapist in your area, call your health insurance company. A company representative will be able to explore in-network providers with you to find a suitable option. If you begin working with a therapist who you don’t feel is the right fit for you, don’t give up — contact your insurance again to request information on additional providers accepting your health insurance coverage.
Compare Health Insurance Plans
Different health insurance plans have different rules on when and how you can access online therapy and still use your benefits. If you’re interested in getting started with online therapy and you don’t currently have a health insurance plan, it’s important to do your research and choose a provider that offers this coverage.
Benzinga offers insights and reviews on the following health insurance options and providers. You may want to begin your search for the best health insurance plan by exploring the links below.
- securely through Sidecar Health Access Plan's websiteBest For:No enrollment period health insurance
Plans referred to above are excepted benefit fixed indemnity insurance products marketed and administered by Sidecar Health Insurance Solutions, LLC and underwritten by Sirius America Insurance Company or United States Fire Insurance Company, depending on the state. As an excepted benefit plan, it does not provide comprehensive/major medical expenses coverage, minimum essential coverage, or essential health benefits. You cannot receive a subsidy (premium tax credit and/or cost-sharing reduction) under the ACA in connection with your purchase of such an excepted benefit fixed indemnity insurance plan. Also, the termination or loss of this policy does not entitle you to a special enrollment period to purchase a health benefit plan that qualifies as minimum essential coverage outside of an open enrollment period. Coverage and plan options may vary or may not be available in all states.
Getting the Most Out of Your Insurance
Online or in-person talk therapy has been found to be an effective way to combat a wide range of mental health struggles like addiction and depression. If you feel like you need to talk to a therapist, don’t let the cost of each session deter you from looking for health. Mental health and substance abuse treatment are required benefits under the Affordable Care Act, meaning that most insurance providers treat talk therapy like any other preventive care service. If you have health insurance, you could pay as little as $20 per hour-long session.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does online therapy usually cost?
If you pay for your online therapy per visit, you can usually expect to pay between $80 and $300 per session. The national average cost of therapy is about $90 per visit without insurance coverage. Some online therapy providers bill on a weekly basis — if you choose an online therapy provider that bills weekly, you can expect to pay between $90 to $200 per week.
Is therapy expensive with insurance?
Therapy is not very expensive if your health insurance offers coverage for it. The average insured American pays between $20 and $50 per therapy session. However, not every health insurance plan covers online therapy — so if this is a service that you’re interested in, be sure that the plan you purchase covers it before you enroll in coverage.
About Sarah Horvath
Sarah is an expert in the insurance, investing for retirement and cryptocurrency space.