The week of September 18—24, 2022 is the second annual Telehealth Awareness Week. This year, NHeLP again joins many stakeholders, health care providers, and advocates to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of telehealth.
During the height of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) in 2020, telehealth usage skyrocketed. Telehealth played a huge role in meeting mental health and substance use services needs. In the last two years, the overall number of telehealth visits has leveled off but access to telehealth continues to be critical especially for underserved and low income communities and people with disabilities.
Telehealth Developments at the Federal Level
Over the past year, there have been numerous telehealth developments at the federal level. For example:
- In September 2021, Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that Medicaid programs in 37 states were not evaluating whether telehealth can improve access, reduce costs, and boost quality of care and were not providing sufficient oversight for fraud, waste, and abuse. The report also found numerous challenges, including provider and enrollee training, internet connectivity, privacy of personal information, and technology costs.
- In March 2022, the National Academy of Sciences and the Social Security Administration convened a workshop and published proceedings covering the opportunities and effectiveness of using telehealth for disability evaluation determinations. Many people with disabilities have inadequate access to health care. Without telehealth, the alternative for many is not in-person care, but no health care at all. Telehealth expands access to care and in rehabilitative care allows clinicians to observe how a person functions in their home environment, as well as reducing infection risks for people who are vulnerable due to complex medical conditions. In addition, recent research in physical therapy suggests telehealth is feasible and convenient for functional, developmental, and musculoskeletal assessments, with accurate diagnoses in close agreement with in-person assessments.
- In May 2022, the Senate Finance Committee released a discussion draft for telehealth policies for mental health care initiatives. The discussion draft includes policies that would direct Medicare and Medicaid to promote and support provider use of telehealth and incentivize states to use their Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs to establish local solutions to serve behavioral health needs in schools, including through telehealth.
- In June 2022, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the HHS issued a new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) guidance. The new HIPAA guidance clarified that remote communication technologies may be used to provide audio-only telehealth services in compliance with the HIPAA rules, as long as reasonable safeguards are put in place to protect the privacy and integrity of protected health information (PHI). Also, although the HIPAA Security Rule does not apply to audio-only telehealth services provided via a traditional telephone landline, it applies to audio-only telehealth services provided via electronic communication technologies such as web based applications and cellular phones.
NHeLP’s Telehealth Advocacy
In 2020, to ensure that further expansion of telehealth services meets the technological and access needs of diverse communities across the country, NHeLP developed a baseline set of Medicaid telehealth principles. Since then, NHeLP has published numerous fact sheets, blogs, and top-ten lists explaining how states expanded telehealth services in various areas to respond to the health care needs of their residents during the pandemic. Additionally, NHeLP staff have shared expertise on telehealth to diverse audiences through presentations and webinars on various telehealth related topics.
Here are some highlights of NHeLP’s telehealth work in the last year:
- NHeLP’s 2020 publication on the benefits and the challenges that telehealth technology can pose for people with disabilities was cited in a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on nondiscrimination in healthcare programs under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.
- For states that want to protect the right to abortions, one option is to expand the kinds of telehealth modalities that are covered through Medicaid. This 2022 fact sheet identifies and analyzes how the sixteen states that cover abortions for Medicaid beneficiaries have decided to cover asynchronous, store-and-forward modalities in ways that could be potentially helpful for increasing abortion access in a time when many states have already taken away the right or are actively taking steps to outlaw abortion.
- NHeLP is currently working on expanding telehealth nondiscrimination protections under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. In our comments we support the inclusion of the provision on telehealth in 11557 regulations and the recognition of telehealth as a tool to improve access for patients who, for various reasons, are unable or prefer to receive services in person. Simultaneously, we recognize that while telehealth has been useful for all populations, telehealth has not been equitable for Limited English Proficient patients and people with disabilities, and that service platforms are not yet made available at all to people with disabilities or people with limited English proficiency.
- NHeLP’s California office is currently working on updating its “An Advocate’s Guide to Medi-Cal Services,” which will include critical information on telehealth developments in California. Stay tuned!
Telehealth Resource and Ways to Promote Telehealth Awareness
- Check out each state’s Health Department and Medicaid Agency telehealth webpages for state specific telehealth policies and changes.
- Check out the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP)’s Spring 2022 Summary Report and Chart that provide recent state telehealth laws and Medicaid policies. CCHP also offers free telehealth webinars, online policy finder, and other telehealth resources.
- Check out NHeLP’s Resource Library and follow us on Twitter @NHeLP_org for our upcoming telehealth publications
- Visit the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) Telehealth Awareness Week events page for telehealth trainings and resources.
- Spread the word about the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), a federal program that helps ensure low-income American households have access to the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare, and more.
- During the week of Telehealth Awareness Week, share telehealth resources we listed here or a personal telehealth story on social media with the hashtag #TelehealthIsHealth.