Coronavirus updates in Texas: Not all insurance plans cover telemedicine; state economy battered on two fronts

A sign for washing hands is seen during a news media tour of quarantine facilities for treating novel coronavirus at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Today's biggest developments:

  • Officials are urging Texans to use telemedicine, but not all insurance plans cover it
  • As virus spreads and officials urge working from home, some government employees are being forced to still come in
  • Unemployment in Texas expected to increase as public health crisis continues

Not all insurance plans pay for remote health care that officials are urging

[5:00 a.m.] As millions of Texans isolate themselves in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, state officials are working to ramp up the use of telemedicine, which allows patients to talk to health care workers by phone or video chat.

Doctors this week applauded a sweeping emergency rule from Gov. Greg Abbott that requires state-regulated health plans to pay doctors for virtual visits at the same rate they would for in-person visits. Meanwhile, the federal government is loosening restrictions on telemedicine in Medicare, the public insurance program for the elderly. Still, Texans’ ability to access telemedicine depends largely on the kind of insurance they have — if they have insurance at all. — Edgar Walters

Some government employees aren't being given the option to work from home

[5:00 a.m.] Donald Trump issued guidelines suggesting people avoid groups larger than 10 people. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott directed state agencies to provide flexible and remote work options to employees.

But despite federal and state guidance, interviews with employees show that government agencies at every level — local, state, federal — are still requiring many workers to come in, forcing them to choose between their health and their job security while potentially putting the public at risk. — Raga Justin and Sami Sparber

Unemployment in Texas is expected to go up, but COVID-19's full economic punch still unclear

[5:00 a.m.] As Texans limit how much they're in public, many people have lost jobs or had their hours cut by businesses adapting to limited or shuttered operations. The economic double whammy of the public health crisis combined with the steep drop in oil prices has experts here unclear about how deeply COVID-19 will impact Texas' economy.

Many hope Congress can agree — quickly — on a large economic stimulus package. But experts say it's hard to know how much help is enough because no one knows how long the public health crisis will continue. — Mitchell Ferman