Mental health therapist concerned about telehealth reimbursements after emergency proclamation ends

Published: May. 15, 2020 at 8:15 PM CDT
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Many medical professionals have turned to meeting with patients via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the national emergency proclamation, healthcare providers are able to still get fully reimbursed for those services, but one provider who is concerned about what will happen after that proclamation ends.

Outpatient Mental Health Therapist Ann Blake works at Cedar Centre. She’s been working from home since April, meeting with patients.

“None of us want to be working for less money obviously,” said Blake.

However, she says that could be a reality in the near future for her and other medical professionals that choose to continue working remotely.

“If you are using telehealth services outside of this national emergency - reimbursements are typically 25 percent less for the same service that we would be providing sitting in a chair," explained Blake.

Under the national emergency President Trump declared in March and the Stafford Act, providers are able to get the same reimbursement for services whether face to face or through telehealth. However, that ends June 18th, forcing providers to return to in-person appointments, or, get paid less, if no extension is announced.

"I’m getting to point now where people who say well I meet with you every month, let’s schedule. Next week I’m going to be in the position of saying I don’t know. Do we schedule that on the phone do I have you come in,” Blake said.

Blake's biggest concern is the risk this may pose for especially vulnerable populations like those she serves - that are being encouraged to stay at home.

"This virus is still in our community. Some people are taking that threat more seriously than others," she said.

A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Human Services says that "Iowa Medicaid's expanded telehealth services will be in place for at least 60 days after the emergency declaration is lifted."

A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services official said in a statement, “Telehealth is a great example of services that are creating greater flexibility and accessibility for our beneficiaries. CMS has already shown its commitment to expanding telehealth within our authority and is continuing as part of this effort to think carefully about what recent changes should be continued after the public health emergency is lifted. We will be assessing this fully after we get past the pandemic, with a focus on making sure that we are leveraging the latest technology and modernizing the Medicare program to provide high-quality care.”

Blake says this is something we should be planning for now, adding she's torn on whether she'll get back to meeting in person should things not be extended.

“I think it would really be a shame to just all of sudden say we’re done with that. It’s time for you all to head back and to put yourself in a situation that may not be safe,” she said.