Proposal to expand telehealth coverage for behavioral and mental health services


NORTHWEST ARKANSAS,(KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas lawmakers and health care providers are looking to expand telemedicine coverage for mental health services. The current health crisis has shown the need and importance of telehealth. It has become a safe way for people to get the care they need amid the pandemic. Some state leaders tell us they want to protect that access to care.

State Representative and Physician, Dr. Lee Johnson introduced a bill to ensure Medicaid would continue to pay for behavioral and mental health services done over video conferencing. This has been made possible under the public health emergency.

He tells us the way it stands now once the order expires so does this benefit.

Johnson said research shows that the quality of care is just as good and in some cases better because of the convenience telehealth provides clients.

“People are sometimes more comfortable talking from the comfort of their homes than maybe an office type setting.” Johnson continued, “we will get back to a situation where we are clearly not under emergency orders and this type of care is still going to be valuable in our society.”

Chantal Carter, LCSW, LADAC, CEDS, is a therapist and the owner of NWA Therapy in Fayetteville. She said all of her clinicians are doing visits 100% virtually right now because of the health crisis.

Carter tells me more people are requesting this type of service because it reduces their exposure to the coronavirus and still allows them to get the same level of care.

Carter said insurance policies are covering teleconferencing because of the public health emergency order.

She adds, that if a company has a self-funded insurance policy, it’s the employer who is considered the administrator. It determines if it will allow its employees to have telehealth benefits.

This is why she is advocating to have a permanent plan in place.

“We’re not asking for additional payments. We’re not asking to provide services more frequently. We’re asking… can we continue to serve our patients that we would have been able to see in our offices and still be able to see them virtually,” said Carter.

Carter said this tool helps to expand access to mental health services in general.

For example, to those living in rural areas, underserved communities, those with childcare issues and people with limited transportation; obstacles that exist with or without the health crisis present.

Carter said without insurance, some people can’t afford mental health care and that needs to change.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services oversees the state’s public mental health system.

A spokesperson tells me after assessing some of the long-term benefits of telehealth, it plans to make some permanent changes surrounding the use of this technology beyond the health emergency.

This would allow telemedicine for individual counseling, marital or family counseling, crisis prevention to name a few.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services in a statement also said:

“Most of the changes related to telemedicine that DHS has made for the public health emergency will be promulgated for a permanent change. However, there are a few things that are allowed during the pandemic that DHS does not expect to be either needed or appropriate long term. Examples include wheelchair assessment visits, which are best done in person, and well-checks that are specific to ensuring clients with developmental disabilities or behavioral health needs have the basic non-medical necessities they need during the pandemic.”

The goal is to have those changes effective in July of 2021.

Meanwhile, the bill has been filed. Johnson hopes to have it in front of the house within the next few weeks.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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