Although it’s been around since at least the mid-1990s, telehealth has been slow to catch on before this spring, said Mei Kwong, executive director for the Center for Connected Health Policy.
Before COVID, only 19 states’ Medicaid programs covered remote patient visits originating from the home, according to the center’s most recent 50-state survey. Fewer than half covered remote patient monitoring and only 16 reimbursed for store-and-forward care.
Since March, there have been a flurry of changes to federal and state policies regulating virtual consultations as governors, legislators and insurance commissioners rushed to remove barriers to telehealth.
Common changes temporarily expanded the types of providers, services, technologies and locations of telehealth visits covered by state Medicaid rules and eased licensing rules for out-of-state providers during the public health emergency. Some states ordered private insurers to cover telemedicine visits or passed payment parity rules.
Nationally, there have been 31 temporary federal policy changes relating to telehealth in that same time, according to the center’s count. At a June hearing on telehealth held by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, witnesses urged lawmakers to make many of these permanent. On July 2, 38 U.S. senators signed on to a letter asking federal health officials to draft a written plan and timeline for amending telehealth rules for Medicare. President Donald Trump seconded the request to permanently expand telehealth in executive orders signed on Aug.3, specifically citing the potential benefits in rural areas.
VIRTUAL DOCTOR VISITS SOAR UNDER COVID — FOR NOW
This story is part of a collaboration of Institute for Nonprofit News members examining the effect of COVID-19 on rural health care. Partners are IowaWatch, Side Effects Media, Wisconsin Watch and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. IowaWatch reporting in this project was made possible by support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems. Read the collaboration’s work here: Slammed: Rural health care and COVID-19.