These 8 telehealth changes can permanently increase access to care
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many unreasonable rules that made it difficult for Nebraskans to access health care. With the need for social distancing guidelines, telehealth represented a reasonable means to help prevent transmission of the virus while delivering quality care. Across the country and in Nebraska, governors temporarily repealed telehealth regulations that blocked access to the health care system.
If the temporary rollback of regulations during a public health crisis are helping improve health care access without compromises in the care received, why not make the rollback permanent?
Sen. John Arch has an interim study (LR350) to examine the use of telehealth services during the pandemic, including the types of health care services that are delivered through telehealth, costs and reimbursement structures, and how utilization during the pandemic compared to utilization in previous years.
The Platte Institute supports measures that will improve access to telehealth, and we are not alone. Wisconsin’s Badger Institute recently published a policy brief discussing how thousands of patients in Wisconsin have benefited from the telehealth emergency orders put in place and urging permanent reforms.
We recently joined other policy research organizations by signing a letter calling on policymakers to increase patient access to telehealth and to enable all health care professionals to virtually consult, treat, and monitor patients. Many of the reforms in the letter echo ALEC’s Resolution in Support of Telehealth Modernization Principles.
The letter’s priorities included the following:
1. Allow all health care providers to practice telehealth: Lawmakers should authorize all licensed, certified, and registered health care providers to practice to the full extent of their health care expertise to deliver clinically appropriate care through telehealth.
2. Authorize providers to deliver any telehealth technology: Policymakers should allow health care providers to practice telehealth through any mode of telecommunications technology that protects patient privacy, including audio-only telephone calls, live-video consultations, store-and-forward, and remote patient monitoring.
3. Remove barriers on the settings of patients and providers: Lawmakers should eliminate laws and regulations that prohibit patients from receiving telehealth services in the location of their choosing, including a patient’s home, school, or place of work. Similarly, policymakers should free providers to deliver telehealth from any facility or location of their choosing.
4. Empower providers to practice across state lines: States around the country have temporarily authorized qualified providers from other states to deliver telehealth to support COVID-19 relief efforts. Policymakers should free out-of-state providers to practice telehealth on a permanent basis.
5. Reject payment parity mandates: Legislators should reject proposals to require patients and insurers to pay for telehealth services at the same rate as in-person health services. On average, telehealth consultations cost 75% less than physicals delivered in-person and consumers should benefit from these savings.
6. Eliminate telepresenter requirements: Lawmakers should repeal laws that mandate patients are physically supervised by a health professional or assistant when they receive a telehealth service.
7. Allow providers to remotely treat new patients: Policymakers should remove rules and regulations that require health professionals to have a preexisting in-person relationship with a patient before they provide telehealth care.
8. Authorize Medicaid Reimbursements: Policymakers should direct Medicaid and other public health care programs to reimburse health care providers when they deliver telehealth to program enrollees.
Without the enactment of these permanent reforms, patients will no longer have access to many of the telehealth services when emergency declarations end.