Health Care and Public Benefits During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening health outcomes and leading to more people applying for governmental assistance. As urgent health needs rise during this crisis, this page provides information on navigating health resources and public benefits during this time.
For information regarding health resources (community health initiatives, the Health Insurance Marketplace, COBRA, etc.) for uninsured Texans needing help with COVID-19 testing or treatment, read Health Resources for Uninsured Texans (COVID-19).
The State of Texas has a new interactive map of all the locations in Texas where you can get a COVID-19 test. It even allows you to search for testing sites by zip code. The map provides contact and other basic information for each testing site, including the type of testing offered.
Every Texan (formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities - CPPP) has put together a new resource to help Texans understand their health insurance coverage options, whether or not you just lost a job.
TDI has tips on how to avoid extra COVID-19 testing charges here.
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. The CARES Act modifies and expands the provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the FFCRA) requiring employer-sponsored group health plans (both fully insured and self-funded) to provide cost-free coverage of COVID-19 testing and related items and services.
Expansion of Coverage for COVID-19 Testing
The FFCRA introduced the requirement that group health plans must provide coverage for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved COVID-19 testing without imposing any cost sharing (including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance).
Coverage of COVID-19 Vaccines and Preventive Services
The CARES Act requires group health plans to provide cost-free coverage of any "qualifying coronavirus preventive service," which is defined as including any item, service or immunization intended to prevent or mitigate COVID-19 .
These health insurers and health maintenance organizations are waiving consumer costs for medically-necessary testing of COVID-19. Many also are offering telemedicine at no cost to consumers. Check their websites for more information. Read here for information regarding copays, refills, or your care options.
The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) has also announced emergency rule to make it easier for Texans with TDI-regulated health insurance to get early refills and to get prescriptions at more locations, including by home delivery. This rule has been extended through September 12. The emergency rule doesn’t apply to self-insured employer plans, Medicare, workers’ compensation, or the state’s employee or teacher retirement plans. The temporary emergency rule requires health plans regulated by TDI to:
Pay for a 90-day refill of covered medications regardless of when the prescription was last refilled, unless specifically prohibited by law as in the case of controlled substances.
Allow prescriptions to be filled at out-of-network pharmacies at no additional cost to the consumer if the drug isn’t available quickly through mail order or at an in-network pharmacy within 30 miles.
Allow for substitutions if the plan’s preferred drug isn’t available due to shortages or distribution issues.
Waive any requirement for a consumer’s signature unless specifically required by law.
Due to COVID-19, SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid recipients will have their benefits renewed automatically. Texas is also allowing households to apply for SNAP without needing to complete an interview, as long as they verify their identities. The work requirement for SNAP and TANF recipents have been waived. No further action is necessary, and recipients will be notified by mail when it is time for them to renew their benefits. The State also encourages online applications.
- To apply for SNAP, TANF and Medicaid, go to YourTexasBenefits.com and click Apply. You can also apply over the phone by calling 2-1-1 (after selecting your language, pick Option 2. HHS has created a COVID-19 FAQ for People Receiving SNAP, TANF or Medicaid.
- Texas WIC has temporarily added more options for the milk, bread, rice, pasta and eggs that you can buy at the grocery store. Read more here. Lone Star Legal Aid has also created a helpful FAQ here on WIC benefits during COVID-19.
Emergency SNAP Benefits. HHS received federal approval to provide the maximum, allowable amount of SNAP benefits to recipients based on family size. The emergency allotments have been extended through the end of June and will affect all SNAP recipients in the state of Texas. Recipients will also see an additional 15 percent increase in their total benefits in January due to recently passed federal legislation. Recipients will receive a 15 percent increase in their total benefits, which will continue monthly until September 2021. SNAP recipients do not need to take any further action to get the additional benefits.
- The Social Security Administration (SSA) has made significant changes to its operations and policies. As the COVID-19 public health situation is developing rapidly, these policies may change. See Social Security Administration and COVID-19. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has also created this FAQ on Social Security changes.
This TexasLawHelp article has more information on public benefits generally.
Lone Star Legal Aid's Public Benefits Unit answers frequently asked questions about the Medicaid application process. See the presentation below.
- Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas has created this presentation on public benefits during this pandemic.
- Lone Star Legal Aid has developed this content regarding extra SNAP (food stamps) benefits during COVID-19.
- Catholic Charities (Dallas) is now able to help vulnerable communities with SNAP and Medicaid applications. Read here.
Texas Health and Human Services recently received federal approval to allow Texans to purchase groceries online using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilot program is expected to start by May 18 statewide. More information can be found here.
The Texas Health and Human Services announced the launch of a statewide pilot program allowing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to purchase groceries online at participating retailers for curbside pickup or delivery. Starting May 13, 2020, SNAP recipients can now visit participating retailer websites and use their Lone Star Card to purchase groceries for curbside pickup or delivery. Currently, participating retailers in Texas are Walmart and Amazon. More information can be found here.
Starting Monday June 1, 2020, low-income Texas families can apply for $285 in federal aid per child to make up for the free and reduced-price meals they missed while schools were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Families that were on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in March don’t need to apply for the program known as Pandemic-EBT, short for electronic benefits transfer. Other families, including those that enrolled in SNAP after April, have through the month of June to submit applications for the food benefits program. Read more here. The application deadline has also been extended to August 21st.
Medicare Part B covers diagnostic testing, and this will extend to Medicare coverage for lab tests for COVID-19. You will pay no out-of-pocket costs (no deductible, coinsurance or copayment). Tests ordered by your doctor or other healthcare provider and done on or after February 4, 2020 will be covered by Medicare. This applies to both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans.However, your provider may need to wait until April 1, 2020, to submit the claim to Medicare. More information here.
Medicare has temporarily expanded its coverge of telehealth services. Many of the prior restrictions on telehealth services have been lifted andMedicare beneficiaries are now able to access a range of services via telehealth, minimizing the need to travel to a provider’s physical office location. Visits after March 6th, 2020, are covered under this emergency order. Read more here.
Medicare Fraud and Scams. In light of COVID-19 , many scammers have been playing on the fears of Medicare beneficiaries. Notable scams include requesting a beneficiary’s Medicare card and other information in order to send masks, gowns, and other supplies. You can find more information by the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol here.
- Medicaid and CHIP will cover COVID-19 testing for Medicaid or CHIP clients. Your healthcare provider will work with local public health officials to determine if you should be tested for COVID-19.
- No prior authorization is required for the COVID-19 lab test by Medicaid and CHIP health plans, or by traditional Medicaid.
- To help families access care during the COVID-19 response, HHSC is waiving office visit co-payments for all CHIP members for services provided from March 13, 2020 through April 30, 2020.
- Co-payments are not required for covered services delivered via telemedicine or telehealth to CHIP members.
- Disability Rights Texas has created the following publication tracking Medicaid changes in Texas during this crisis. You can read it here.
Under the law, everyone is eligible for testing and treatment of communicable diseases, including coronavirus. This includes people without legal immigration status. Vaccines for communicable diseases are also available to everyone. This is true no matter your immigration status. If a vaccine is developed for coronavirus, you and your family members should be able to get it, even if you don't have legal immigration status. For more information on this, read Immigrant Rights and Healthcare Access during COVID-19. Read here for information on the public charge rule.
For more COVID-19 resources for immigrants, see Resource for Immigrants during COVID-19.
Texas Health and Human Services has launched a 24/7 statewide mental health support line to help Texans experiencing anxiety, stress or emotional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This new resource offers COVID-19-related mental health support for all Texans. People can call the Statewide COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week toll-free at 833-986-1919.
If you need help, reach out. Check with your health plan to find out what options are available. Many plans have special hotlines or cover mental health visits through telemedicine. Texas Department of Insurance has more information here.
Other resources include:
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information on taking care of your emotional health.
- NAMI Texas: 512-693-2000
- The national Disaster Distress Helpline is available at 800-985-5990
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Helpline: 800-662-4357
- Suicide Prevention Line: 800-784-2433
- 2-1-1 Texas can direct you to local mental health resources.
- Mental Health America has compiled a range of mental health resources and information here.
- PsychHub has a COVID-19 Mental Health Resource Hub here.
A new website from the Pandemic Crisis Services Response Coalition aims to help people find the mental and emotional services they need. It’s a database — searchable by state, contact method, type of support needed and other categories. The website also offers help in finding services that help with anxiety, substance abuse, domestic violence and abuse, depression and more.
For more information on mental health resources, find your local mental health authority here.