It took the issues of rising healthcare costs and crisis management for the opioid epidemic to push the federal and state governments to get behind the increased use of telehealth.
But government efforts at many levels to expand telehealth accelerated in 2018, says new research from Epstein Becker Green, a law firm with a primary focus on health care and life sciences, finds that 49 states and the District of Columbia provide reimbursement for live video telehealth services through Medicaid fee-for-service programs. Massachusetts is the only state not yet participating, says Epstein Becker Green.
The law firm also found that found that current events and issues, such as the opioid crisis, have put more pressure on federal and state lawmakers to pass laws that promote access guidance for, providers seeking to utilize telehealth services.
“Telehealth is a proactive solution for patients who need quality care from healthcare providers who may not be located close by or require real-time or after-hours care,” says Amy Lerman, an attorney and chief telehealth researcher for Epstein Becker Green. “As access to this method of care expands, it also opens the door for various subsets of medicine, including behavioral and telemental health.
Other legislative and regulatory drivers for the increased use of telehealth include:
- The Budget Act of 2018 signed into law in February expanded Medicare coverage for certain telehealth services to beneficiaries who are being treated by practitioners participating in accountable care organizations (“ACOs”).
- In June, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Servicespublicly encouraged states to utilize telemedicine and telepsychiatry to facilitate coordinated care for Medicaid recipients. As of August 2018, 49 states and the District of Columbia provide reimbursement for live video telehealth services through Medicaid fee-for-service programs. Massachusetts is the only state not yet participating.
- Several states, including Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, have introduced or passed legislation that expands remote prescribing of controlled substances for treatment of substance use disorders (“SUDs”).
- Telehealth utilization through state Medicaid programs has expanded to allow recipients greater access, especially in schools. New York has expanded the list of state-sanctioned care delivery sites for telehealth to public, private, and charter elementary and secondary schools, and granted children virtual access to mental health counselors.
- Department of Veterans Affairs has significantly expanded its telehealth-focused programs and is now mandated by Congress to provide veterans with a self-scheduling, online appointment system, whether in person or via telehealth technologies. Since its rollout, the VA’s telehealth programhas now includes approximately 20,000 new patients and hosts more than 6,000 virtual visits each week.