Health Care and Public Benefits During COVID-19
Food & Cash Benefits
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.
Resources for uninsured Texans needing help with COVID-19 testing or treatment
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).
Every Texan (formerly the Center for Public Policy Priorities - CPPP) has put together an article to help Texans understand How to Get Health Insurance, whether or not you just lost a job.
The Texas Department of Insurance has tips on how to avoid extra COVID-19 testing charges.
Private Health Insurance
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.
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 recipients 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.
- 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. Visit Texas WIC's website to stay up to date on WIC food updates. Lone Star Legal Aid has also created a helpful FAQ here on WIC benefits during COVID-19.
- 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 a 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.
- Also, Lone Star Legal Aid has published this article on P-EBT COVID pandemic food benefits for children's school lunches lost due to school closures.
- 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.
Medicare has temporarily expanded its coverage of telehealth services. Many of the prior restrictions on telehealth services have been lifted and Medicare beneficiaries are now able to access a range of services via telehealth, minimizing the need to travel to a provider’s physical office location. Read Medicare's information on Telehealth.
Medicare beneficiaries are encouraged to use YourTexasBenefits.com or their mobile app to apply for benefits during this time.
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 visiting the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol.
Medicaid and CHIP
- 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.
- 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 Texas Medicaid Changes During the COVID-19 Emergency.
How does the public charge rule and accessing health services affect my immigration status?
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.
For information on how nursing facilities have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, see Nursing Homes and COVID-19.
Mental Health Resources
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 on How to Get Help with a Mental Health Issue.
Other resources include:
- 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 resources for Mental Health And COVID-19 Information.
- PsychHub has published tips on Adapting mental health care to meet the demands of COVID-19.
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.