How the coronavirus pandemic is impacting mental telehealth services

Jackie Drees - Print  | 

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the country, federal and state health partners, behavioral health organizations and payers are all working to expand their approaches to mental health treatments, according to Roll Call.

With public health experts and federal and state officials telling the public to stay homebound and practice social distancing to help curb the spread of COVID-19, many people who go to counseling or group therapies are using telehealth to continue services.

"We're seeing a lot of states respond by proposing pretty radical changes to their telehealth reimbursement policies both by increasing types of services that can be delivered by telehealth, the types of professionals that can deliver those services, as well as thinking very broadly about the types of technologies that can be used," said Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, according to the report.

Earlier this week, the state of Washington applied for a Medicaid waiver that would increase the coverage and flexibility of telehealth services. The Medicaid program, called Apple Health, also created new billing codes so behavioral health services delivered via telehealth are billed the same as in-person appointments.

Health insurers are also limiting mental health telehealth restrictions. Aetna is now waiving copays for behavioral health virtual care visits until June 4, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said some of its plans are offering mental health services as part of its telehealth offerings. These plans include Anthem, Florida Blue and Horizon. Cigna is also now running a 24-hour hotline to help connect customers who are experiencing anxiety to connect with clinicians.

"Anxiety is understandably high as we are learning more about the spread of this disease," said Douglas Nemecek, CMO for behavioral health at Cigna.


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