Future of Telehealth, a Primary Source of Mental Health Care, in Jeopardy

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Telehealth, or the process of seeing a health care provider over the internet with a webcam, is under threat because insurance companies may not pay for the service going forward. According to a new story from the Chicago Tribune, telehealth has exploded during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the enterprise may be in jeopardy in the coming months if changes are not made in most American insurance plans. What many people may not realize is that before people started using telehealth for primary care visits during the pandemic, many people were already using telehealth for counseling and mental health care, and many of those people may not have other good options. I work with Dr. Raymond Pomm, who pioneered telehealth services for people with substance use disorder. The best drug rehabs in Florida are currently using telehealth to deliver counseling, and that includes Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery in Panama City, FL. Importantly, when a patient cannot afford inpatient rehabilitation, detox, or other major services, telehealth is often where they turn in order to receive help at a lower cost. If telehealth is taken away, they may not simply be able to switch to another program, as other programs may have been prohibitively expensive to begin with. Furthermore, at Florida Springs and some of the other best drug rehabs and treatment centers in Florida, telehealth is a vital part of a number of programs currently, including intensive outpatient programs and medication-assisted treatment programs. 

The company I work for maybe one of the last top drug rehabs in Florida that takes Medicaid/medicare patients for any of their programs. I have seen other facilities that clearly state that they do not. This issue actually breaks down around whether a person has private insurance or not. For those with Medicare/Medicaid, the federal government has gone to great lengths to see telehealth continue past Covid-19, and the Trump Administration should get some small amount of credit for this. From the government’s CMS.gov website, 

“The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is proposing changes to expand telehealth permanently, consistent with the Executive Order on Improving Rural and Telehealth Access that President Trump signed today. The Executive Order and proposed rule advance our efforts to improve access and convenience of care for Medicare beneficiaries, particularly those living in rural areas. Additionally, the proposed rule implements a multi-year effort to reduce clinician burden under our Patients Over Paperwork initiative and to ensure appropriate reimbursement for time spent with patients. This proposed rule also takes steps to implement President Trump’s Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for our Nation’s Seniors and continues our commitment to ensure that the Medicare program is sustainable for future generations.”

Now the ball will be in the court of the private insurance companies. If they match what the federal government has done and continue to cover telehealth through the next few years, many people who use telehealth for various services can rest easy for the time being. I will update my readers when I see the insurance companies’ responses to these developments. 

By T.A. Cannon (Contact me at TACannonWriting@gmail.com)