What happens to telehealth appointments after the COVID-19 pandemic?

Simple Health

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Wednesday, Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett hosted a hearing to discuss the path forward for telehealth as we get closer to the end of the pandemic.

It’s clear: virtual connections with our physicians are here to stay, but physicians and insurance providers have different opinions on what needs to change to make it a viable permanent option.

“The telehealth promise has long been available, but the past year has charted a path forward for a better quality and more comprehensive use of it,” Rep. Doggett began on Wednesday.

“Over 4.5 million Texans tried it in the first four months. And 95% of them said they’re going to continue to use it,” Texas Association of Health Plans CEO Jamie Dudensing said Texans and physicians have benefited greatly from telehealth services over the course of the pandemic.

Dudensing said Texas was in a better position than other states to make the transition to telemedicine visits thanks to a bill that passed in the last legislative session.

“In the state of Texas for health plans are licensed by the Texas Department of Insurance, commercial health insurance, that if you have to provide coverage for all the same benefits that you provide, that are standard benefits in an office, you have to provide that same coverage through telemedicine as long as it meets standard of care,” Dudensing explained.

She said physicians offices had the option to start rolling these services out after the bill passed in 2017, but few did until the pandemic forced doctors to implement the technology as in-person visits drastically dropped.

“You had more of an incentive for Texas providers, Texas doctors to actually finally purchase the equipment,” Dudensing said.

Physicians, however, say a pandemic exception made it easier for them to offer the services: payment parity, when doctors are allowed to charge the same amount for an in-person visit and an online visit.

“That ability to have consistent payments certainly allowed them to provide their services in a manner which was sustainable for their practice,” Dr. Ezekiel “Zeke” Silva III with the Texas Medical Association explained.

Physicians are now happy to continue the technology, but are asking for that payment parity to remain in place.

Prior to the pandemic, physicians also feared that rolling out telehealth visits could eliminate in-person visits altogether. But, preliminary data shows that’s not true.

“Claims data in Texas shows telehealth represents closer to 20% of all visits. The point to be made here is that when your doctor is skilled with telehealth, they will utilize this means when indicated or necessary, but telehealth is neither a replacement solution, nor is it strictly additive to conventional care,” Dr. Thomas Kim testified in Rep. Doggett’s hearing on Wednesday.

TAHP said for any Texan wanting to ensure their telehealth visits are covered going forward, to just check with their physician’s office ahead of time. If it’s in-network, and your office offers telemedicine visits, it should be covered.

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