How to address telehealth pay gaps once COVID-19 state emergency orders end

Once the COVID-19 pandemic ends and states begin lifting emergency orders, temporary payment measures for telehealth reimbursement will likely go away unless financial incentives and permanent state regulations are put in place, according to Bloomberg Law

While major healthcare insurers such as Aetna, Cigna and United Healthcare already covered telehealth before the pandemic, the virtual services were not always reimbursed for providers at the same rate as in-person care. If states don't take regulatory action to require insurers to cover telehealth at the same rate as in person, then physicians will have more financial incentive to provide in-person care, which reimburses higher. 

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen an overnight switch from in-person to telehealth services, and I think this is a dress rehearsal for telehealth as a mainstream modality of providing healthcare,” said Jake Harper, a healthcare attorney who specializes in telehealth and reimbursement issues at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP in Washington, according to the report. 

While telehealth payment reimbursement is an issue that falls down to individual states, there are ways federal regulators can get involved. CMS Administrator Seema Verma recently said the President Donald Trump wants to explore "extending telehealth benefits more widely" once the public health emergency ends. States such as Illinois and Arkansas are exploring options and practices to implement long-term measures to support telehealth. 

"Since payment parity is one of the keys to increased adoption of telehealth, I would expect to see more telehealth guidance and initiatives on both the state and federal level as both state and federal governments look for ways to encourage the increased use of telehealth," said Ryan Blaney, a healthcare partner at Proskauer Rose LLP in Washington. 

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