United States: OIG Report Highlights Importance of Telehealth in Behavioral Health Service Delivery, But Highlights Need for Additional Surveillance
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As we have seen previously, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant increase in the prevalence of telehealth services, largely due to regulatory flexibilities at the federal and state levels. Beginning in March 2020, state Medicaid programs across the country relaxed coverage requirements for telehealth services provided to Medicaid beneficiaries, lowering barriers by allowing audio-only services and covering a wider range of services provided. via telehealth. The increase in telehealth has improved access to behavioral health services in particular, but according to an OIG report released earlier this week, state Medicaid programs will need to increase their oversight of these services if telehealth flexibilities become permanent.
“As the nation grapples with the psychological and emotional impact of COVID-19, the use of telehealth will be important in meeting the behavioral health needs of Medicaid registrants,” the OIG report explains, discussing the reason for which the State Behavior Monitoring and Assessment Review is being conducted. health in Medicaid. While telehealth has long been an important tool used by states to improve access to behavioral health services for beneficiaries in rural and other underserved areas, the increase in telehealth use during the pandemic highlighted its importance in increasing access to behavioral health services more broadly. As states consider making telehealth flexibilities permanent, the report says they will need additional data to determine which services best support Medicaid recipients.
By interviewing 37 Medicaid directors from states that provide behavioral health services through telehealth through managed care organizations, the OIG found that most states had not evaluated the effects of telehealth. in their state. Additionally, some states were unable to identify services provided through telehealth. States that evaluated the effects of telehealth found that telehealth increased access and reduced costs, although there were concerns about the quality of care provided and the potential for fraud, waste and abuse.
To address these concerns, the OIG recommended that CMS take steps to ensure that States are able to identify services provided through telehealth. The OIG also recommended that CMS conduct assessments, and support state assessments, of the effects of telehealth on access, cost and quality of behavioral health services. Finally, the OIG recommended increased surveillance of fraud, waste and abuse by CMS and states.
The OIG recognizes the importance of telehealth in improving access to behavioral health services, particularly during a pandemic that has seen an increased need for such services. As the federal and state governments take steps to make the telehealth changes of the past year and a half permanent, we can expect increased oversight of telehealth services. Check back here for more updates on the evolving state of telehealth.
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