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7 Ways to Access Virtual Mental Health Care and Support


Published May 15, 2023 • by AHIP

If you need mental health support* but can’t make it to a therapist or counselor’s office in person, you don’t have to worry. The good news is: You actually have more access to virtual mental health support than you think.

Thanks to innovative approaches in telehealth from health insurance providers and federal policy flexibilities, Americans with mental health needs have more safe and affordable options to get the professional help they need without leaving their home.

Telehealth mental support has exploded over the past three years. In 2020 alone, almost 40 percent of mental health visits were conducted through telehealth — a 100-fold increase compared to 2019, when less than one percent of visits were virtual. This demand for virtual mental health care is still elevated.

In addition, 57 percent of patients said they prefer telehealth for regular mental health support visits, which is why health insurance providers are pushing to keep in place the policies that have enabled and increased access to telehealth services. In fact, 100 percent of commercial health plans providing in-network coverage reported that they cover telehealth mental health support.

Here’s how to check your plan’s benefits for virtual mental health support:

  1. Call your plan. The easiest option is to call the phone number on the back of your health care coverage card and ask for more information on your specific benefits.
  2. Search your database. Visit your health insurance provider’s website and sign in to see a directory of in-network providers. You can search by provider name, location, or practice specialty such as addiction, depression, or grief.
  3. Ask your Primary Care Provider (PCP). Not only is your PCP your first point of contact when it comes to physical health care -- in many cases, he or she is a good source for mental health care too. Health insurance providers support the idea of integrating care for both body and mind and are delivering mental health training and support to PCPs so they can more easily address these issues. More than half of patients with employer-provided coverage who sought mental health support in 2020 received care through their PCP.
  4. Research your workplace options. If you are starting a new job and need to enroll in health care coverage, now is the time to learn more about plan options from your employer and search what telehealth mental health services they offer. AHIP found that nearly 1 in 4 Americans — 41 million people — received mental health support in 2020 though their employer-provided coverage. Much of this expanded access was the result of health insurance providers quickly boosting virtual support: Almost 40% of these visits were conducted virtually.
  5. Ask HR. If you are employed, ask your company about its Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Eighty-four percent of large employers in the private sector and 90 percent of large public sector employers offer these programs as a benefit to support mental health and assist with non-medical issues that impact work and home life. Many employers also provide mental health leave to workers who need it.
  6. Search Mental health and substance use disorder care are considered part of the 10 essential health benefits covered by marketplace health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. Google or ask your insurance provider for an easy-to-read summary of benefits and coverage list to see how you can access that care.
  7. Find a local program. Many health insurance providers are collaborating with health partners to create mental health community access programs, creating new sites and apps, or working with schools and hospitals to expand mental health care in the communities they serve. If you have health insurance, search this list to see what your provider is doing to help.

Health insurance providers are always working to expand access to both physical and mental health care and to break down barriers to affordable, accessible care. For more information, watch “Making Mental Health More Accessible and Affordable” and take care.

*If you need immediate support for a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988.