U.S. Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) in December introduced the Permanency for Audio-Only Telehealth Act to permanently expand Medicare coverage for audio-only telehealth visits.
Until telehealth restrictions were relaxed during the COVID-19 public health emergency, it was difficult or even impossible for behavioral health clinicians to conduct telephone-only visits. Protecting client privacy could be tricky, and getting reimbursed for the telehealth visit was often in question.
Under the new bill, Medicare would reimburse providers for audio-only behavioral health evaluation and management services after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended and other emergency measures for telehealth expire. Geographic restrictions of Medicare also would be removed, so that a Medicare patient’s home could be designated as a delivery site for certain telehealth services.
This bill is one of several telehealth bills that have been introduced in Congress since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Opponents of this bill argue that phone calls cannot properly establish a doctor-patient relationship and should only be allowed after an in-person exam. However, groups like the American Psychological Association (APA) have voiced support for this latest bill, saying it can improve health equity for underserved populations. You can read more about the bill’s supporters in a press release issued by Smith’s team.
The Permanency for Audio-Only Telehealth Act, if passed, would have several potential advantages for both behavioral health providers and clients. These include:
Better reimbursement options for behavioral health providers in a period of financial difficulty for many practices
Making permanent many of the benefits of telehealth that providers have enjoyed under emergency provisions
Increased access to behavioral health services for low-income clients who may lack the technology necessary for video telehealth visits
Expanded care options for older clients who may be unable to use full-service telehealth technology or make in-person visits
Behavioral health access for individuals in rural areas who may not have reliable access to broadband
This last advantage could be especially important. Farmers and other workers in rural areas are at high risk of mental illness and even suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New research shows that farmers have benefited significantly from the recent growth of telehealth. Virtual behavioral health services have given rural workers better access to care that may otherwise be located too far away. It can also help reduce the stigma associated with mental healthcare in remote communities.
New research shows that mental health clinicians are pleased with telehealth services, as well. the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, a group of more than 1,000 health organizations, technology firms, and nonprofits, recently published a survey of more than 1,500 providers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, and social workers. Overall, 60 percent of clinicians reported that telehealth has improved patient health and 55 percent reported that telehealth has improved their satisfaction with their work.
Are you adding or expanding telehealth options at your behavioral health practice? You need an EHR solution that will help meet your client, staff, and financial needs while balancing onsite and virtual care. Fortunately, adopting behavioral telehealth doesn’t have to be complicated. BestNotes EHR solutions were developed specifically for behavioral health and addiction treatment providers to help you stay compliant and profitable. Contact BestNotes today to learn more.