– With COVID-19 infection rates still rising in underserved populations, state officials are trying to make it easier to use telehealth to access healthcare services.
“Allowing Medicaid-enrolled providers to offer telehealth services using audio-only telephone for new or established patients who are Medicaid recipients will make more healthcare services available to more patients without increasing the risk of transmission of COVID-19,” the declaration noted.
Dozens of states have passed emergency orders relaxing the rules to enable telehealth and mHealth use, most often by easing Medicaid restrictions or enabling license portability. Prior to the pandemic, many states had regulations in place prohibiting healthcare services delivered through audio-only phones and online messaging platforms, instead favoring real-time audio-visual services.
But telehealth advocates have argued that underserved populations often don’t have access to audio-visual telemedicine, while they’re much more likely to have a smartphone.
Next door in Massachusetts, state officials have signed a deal with telehealth provider Doctor On Demand to establish free healthcare access through connected health channels – smartphone or computer – for residents with no health insurance. The Commonwealth had recently signed a similar deal to extend free coverage to Medicaid and CHIP members.
“During the COVID-19 emergency, Massachusetts has made unprecedented efforts to eliminate barriers to health care access, including expansive coverage of telehealth services,” Acting Medicaid Director Amanda Cassel Kraft said in a press release issued on Friday. “MassHealth is excited to announce this partnership with Doctor On Demand to provide medical support to our members and uninsured residents seeking guidance on COVID-19 symptoms or risk factors.”
The goal of both announcements is not just to enhance telehealth use, but to try to curb the spread of the virus by extending healthcare services to those most at risk of being infected and least likely to have easy access to care and treatment.