Enrollment for the FCC’s EBB program will begin May 12, 2021. Eligible households will be able to enroll in the Program to receive a monthly discount off the cost of broadband service from an approved provider.
Included in a recent bill to increase health and human services funding by $59 in Iowa is legislation to expand telehealth. The policy component would create payment parity for tele-behavioral health, requiring private insurers to reimburse providers for behavioral mental health services whether delivered in-person or via telehealth.
The bill recently passed by the Illinois House would make COVID-19-induced telehealth expansion permanent in state legislation. The bill removes geographic or facility restrictions to telehealth and protects patients from being charged additional fees for accessing telehealth.
A bill calling for a pilot project on payment parity failed in North Dakota congress, with some legislators arguing requiring that in-person and virtual services charge the same is equivalent to “price setting.”
The end of the public health emergency may mean the end of regulatory flexibilities that telehealth care providers have relied on. To establish an effective telehealth program post-pandemic, Relatient, a Tennessee-based developer of patient engagement services, recommends five parts: let your patients know their options, enable a chat/secure messaging feature, adjust appointment reminder scripts to be more accessible, move registration online and to patient devices, and adopt a hybrid care mentality.
Several states have passed legislation that expand telemedicine, including South Dakota, where a bill was passed last month allowing patients to establish a telemedicine relationship with a physician remotely.
In a discussion with Mike Morgan, president of Updox, Morgan discussed the future of virtual care post-pandemic. Morgan noted that patients have come to like and expect some telehealth options going forward. Telehealth also allows providers to reach their patients on more platforms and to work more efficiently, thus optimizing their overall care-delivery strategy.
The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed the “Minnesota Telehealth Act,” while the House passed a health and human services omnibus package that included a similar bill. The Act would raise reimbursement rates for video or audio consultations between patients and providers. It would also expand the definition of telehealth to include additional medical services, such as mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment.
The American Board of Telehealth is offering an online, self-paced certificate program for providers interested in providing tele-behavioral health. The program comprises seven learning modules designed for a range of healthcare professionals, including psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, prevention specialists and more. The course is $395 for individuals and $195 for students, with discounts available for team training.
The University of Minnesota’s Mobile Resuscitation Consortium (MMRC) will be operating a mobile health van to treat heart attack victims through an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine that oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to recover, then pumps that blood back into the body through cannula. Usually, patients would need to be kept stable while they are brought to a hospital to use the ECMO machine. The mobile van, likely launching summer 2021, will allow emergent care to get to patients sooner.
In its 2020 report, the Wisconsin Hospital Association reported significant provider shortages for nursing assistants, surgical techs, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurse anesthetists, among others. The Association’s Vice President, Ann Zenk, said that the future will have them “exploring better and better and more efficient ways to utilize telemedicine.”
A recent study by RAND Corporation found a twenty-fold increase in telehealth visits from 2019 to the spring of 2020. However, there were disparities in who was receiving telehealth services, with 50 visits per 10,000 people in metro areas versus about 31 visits per 10,000 people in rural areas.
A study published last month assessed the association between limited English proficiency and telehealth use in California. Researchers found that 12.3% of patients with proficient English had had a telehealth visit in the past 12 months compared to only 4.8% of patients with limited English proficiency, suggesting barriers to telehealth access related to language abilities.
Director of gpTRAC, Dr. Jonathan Neufeld, was a recent guest on a podcast to discuss telehealth, its current uses, best practices, and how to work through challenges.
The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission recommended that Congress extend a limited number COVID-induced telehealth regulatory flexibilities for a few years after the pandemic. The policies that MEDPAC recommends be temporarily continued include Medicare coverage for telehealth services regardless of where the beneficiary is located and audio-only services.
Dr. Kimberly Noel, telehealth director at Stony Brook Medicine, offers five key points for clinicians to know when approaching telemedicine.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota has extended temporary virtual care benefits through the end of 2021, making it one of the first payers to do so. The expanded benefits allow services including behavioral health services, medication management, and physical, speech, and occupational therapy to be provided virtually.
Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin included $150 million in the state’s 2021-23 budget to go toward increasing access to mental health care, including expanding telehealth accessibility. To expand access, Wisconsin will enact a telehealth parity law ensuring that those with private insurance have access to telehealth services, including telepsychiatry.
The Center for Connected Health Policy has published their 2021 guide to billing for telehealth encounters.
Members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission are divided about how to proceed with Medicare’s telehealth policy post-COVID. Several members expressed concern that, because of the relative newness of telehealth, policy-makers should take more time to see what works and what doesn’t. Nevertheless, as telehealth has become an inextricable part of the health care landscape during COVID-19, other members have called attempts to roll back temporary policies “regressive.”
The Minnesota Department of Human Services, in partnership with two Native American centers in Minnesota, is distributing remote monitoring tools and telehealth supplies to Native American elders throughout the state. As the Native American population has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, these supplies will better allow community members to access health care from home.
HHS awarded $6.5 million to the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center (TTAC), based out of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, to assess and improve access to telehealth in rural areas of Texas, Michigan, West Virginia and Alaska. The Telehealth-Focused Rural Health Research Center through the University of Arkansas was also awarded $1.5 million to evaluate the program across participating communities.
In a survey conducted by The Harris Poll, about 65% of respondents said they plan to continue using telehealth after the pandemic ends. Many (44%) still preferred in-person visits, but nearly the same proportion said they would use a combination of in-person and virtual care, with the in-person option more heavily preferred by older respondents.
The South Dakota Governor introduced two pieces of legislation that would expand upon executive orders made during the COVID-19 pandemic to make permanent the flexibilities created for telehealth.