COVID-19 and Private Health Insurance Coverage: Frequently Asked Questions (CRS R46359)

The United States is reporting some of the highest numbers of cases and deaths from the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic globally, and the virus is affecting communities nationwide. As private health insurance is the predominant source of health coverage in the United States, there is considerable congressional interest in understanding private health insurance coverage of health benefits related to COVID-19. This report addresses frequently asked questions about private health insurance covered benefits and consumer cost sharing related to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and a potential vaccine. It explains relevant legislation enacted in 2020, references existing federal requirements, discusses recent administrative guidance, and notes state and private-sector actions.

Federal and state health insurance requirements may relate to covered benefits and consumer cost sharing, among many other topics. These requirements can vary by coverage type (i.e., individual coverage, fully insured small- and large-group coverage, and self-insured plans). Covered benefits, consumer costs, and other plan features may vary by plan within each type of coverage, subject to applicable federal and state requirements.

The following bullets summarize federal requirements related to coverage and cost sharing (which includes deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments) of COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination. Additional details are addressed in the report, including the applicability of the requirements to different types of plans; whether the coverage requirements apply even when furnished by out-of-network providers; whether plans are allowed to impose prior authorization or other medical management techniques; and the applicable dates of any coverage requirements.

  • COVID-19 Testing. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA; P.L. 116-127), as amended by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act; P.L. 116-136), requires most private health insurance plans to cover COVID-19 testing, administration of the test, and related items and services, as defined by the acts. This coverage must be provided without consumer cost sharing.
  • COVID-19 Treatment. There are no federal requirements that specifically require coverage of COVID-19 treatment. However, the existing federal requirement that certain plans cover a set of 10 categories of essential health benefits (EHB) is potentially relevant to coverage of COVID-19 treatment items and services, depending on state and plan variation with regard to implementation of this requirement. Even where treatment items and services are required to be covered as EHB, cost sharing could apply.
  • COVID-19 Vaccine. As of the date of this report [August 24, 2020], there is no vaccine against COVID-19 approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States, although several candidates are in development. The CARES Act requires most plans to cover a COVID-19 vaccine, when available, without cost sharing, if it is recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Similarly, most plans must cover, without cost sharing, any other COVID-19 preventive services that are recommended for use by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

Some states have also announced relevant requirements on the plans they regulate, and some insurers have reported that they will cover certain relevant benefits. Several organizations are tracking these announcements, as noted in this report.

COVID-19 and Private Health Insurance Coverage: Frequently Asked Questions,” CRS Report R46359, August 24, 2020 (24-page PDFPDF)

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