Telehealth Exemption for HDHPs Extended

In March 2022, Congress passed, and the President signed, a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill (the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022). This law includes a temporary extension of the ability for HDHP plans to provide telehealth and other remote care services without being subject to the deductible. Importantly, this avoids the problem of having that no-deductible coverage disqualify contributions to health savings accounts (HSA). This provision restores employers’ option to adopt pre-deductible telehealth visits in their HDHP plans (but it does not mandate it).

Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has been an important way to obtain necessary medical care while maintaining recommended social distancing. Because of this, most employers adopted these provisions to enhance access to COVID-safe office visits for participants in HDHP plans.
 

Background

By way of background, tax-advantaged contributions generally cannot be made to an HSA unless the account holder is covered by a qualifying high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and does not have disqualifying non-HDHP coverage. The CARES Act (signed in March 2020) created exceptions to those rules to facilitate the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, those exceptions applied only to plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021. The new legislation restores these exceptions for the last nine months of 2022.

The vast majority of employer-sponsored HDHPs with HSAs elected to cover telehealth services on a pre-deductible basis. Specifically, 83% of fully insured plans and 81% of self-insured plans, according to a study from the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). As a reminder, the HDHP minimum statutory deductible for 2022 is $1,400 for single coverage and $2,800 for family coverage.
 

Two Key Provisions

The new legislation amends two key provisions for HSAs:
 
  1. Telehealth and other remote care services will be considered disregarded coverage; therefore, such pre-deductible coverage will not cause a loss of HSA eligibility. This new provision applies from April 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022.
     
  2. Plans may provide coverage for telehealth and other remote care services before the HDHP minimum deductible is satisfied without losing their HDHP status during that nine-month period.

Both amendments apply only to the nine-month period from April 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022, without regard to the HDHP’s plan year. Importantly, the relief does not apply for the first three months of 2022, therefore some plans (specifically, calendar-year plans) must still apply the minimum deductible to telehealth and other remote care services during those months to remain compliant.
 

Not Retroactive - A Few Wrinkles

Permissive, Not Mandatory: The legislation offers permission for plans to adopt these changes, but the changes are not mandatory. Thus, HDHPs are not required to waive their minimum deductible for telehealth and other remote services during the additional relief period. As a result, some plan sponsors may conclude that a midyear change to take advantage of the restored exception is too difficult to communicate and administer, and not worth the effort.

Pre-Deductible Coverage Gap: The legislation also is expressly not retroactive, and this leaves an unfortunate gap in first-dollar coverage for participants. HDHP participants in plans that previously adopted this provision have enjoyed telehealth services not being subject to the deductible in 2021 and may do so for nine additional months (April 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022), but this leaves a 3-month gap in first-dollar coverage for these services. This could create confusion for plan participants and certainly would require careful communication.

Not Retroactive: Plan sponsors, who expected that Congress would extend the CARES Act relief without a gap and thus continued providing telehealth services during the first three months of 2022 without applying the minimum deductible, have a unique problem. Specifically, determining whether their plans can and should apply the minimum deductible to telehealth and other remote services retroactively to the gap period. Some covered individuals may be able to avoid the adverse HSA-eligibility consequences of their plan’s failure to satisfy the minimum deductible requirement during the first three months of 2022 by using the full contribution rule, which allows a full year’s worth of HSA contributions to be made by someone who is HSA-eligible for only a portion of the year. However, that rule may not be available to all plan participants because some may not remain HSA-eligible through December 1, 2022, and some may not remain HSA-eligible throughout the 13-month testing period beginning on that date. If an employer wanted to take corrective action, participants could be billed for any telehealth visits between January 1, 2022 and March 31, 2022. Those billed charges would then apply to the deductible. This solution would require re-adjudicating telehealth claims incurred during those interim months.
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