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Understanding the Impact of Proposed Bills on Telehealth and Substance Use Recovery Providers

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Black woman hosting a group telehealth session

As technology continues to revolutionize the healthcare industry, telehealth has emerged as a critical tool in delivering quality care to patients, including those seeking substance use recovery services. Telehealth allows providers to connect with patients remotely, expanding access to treatment and support, regardless of geographical constraints. However, recent legislative proposals could significantly impact substance use recovery providers and their use of telehealth services. In this blog post, we will explore these proposed bills and their potential implications for both providers and clients.

The Expansion of Telehealth Services

One key legislative proposal is the ” Expanded Telehealth Access Act.”  Also called H.R. 3875, this bill aims to broaden the types of healthcare providers eligible for reimbursement of telehealth services under the Medicare program. This expansion would include professionals like audiologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and qualified speech-language pathologists, among others specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Integrated and multi-specialty substance use recovery providers, such as occupational therapists and mental health counselors, could potentially benefit from this bill by being able to offer telehealth services and receive reimbursement for their remote care. The goal is to expand telehealth services for substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. If passed, it could have a substantial impact on how SUD recovery providers deliver their services.

Telehealth allows providers to offer virtual counseling sessions, medication management, and support group meetings, increasing treatment accessibility for those living in remote areas or unable to attend in-person sessions. By expanding telehealth services, this bill could enhance the overall effectiveness of SUD treatment by reaching a broader range of individuals in need.

Reimbursement and Coverage for Telehealth Services

The “Telehealth Coverage and Payment Parity Act” is another highly influential bill. This legislation aims to mandate coverage and reimbursement parity for telehealth services, ensuring that insurers provide equitable compensation to providers for both in-person and virtual care. For substance use recovery providers, this could mean fairer compensation for telehealth services, encouraging more providers to incorporate telehealth into their practice.

Moreover, if telehealth services are covered on par with in-person visits, it could reduce financial barriers for patients seeking substance use recovery treatment. This increased affordability might lead to higher treatment engagement and better outcomes for those struggling with substance use disorders.

This could be especially helpful for clients who live in areas far from substance use recovery agencies, including rural areas (provided they have good internet access). It could also allow providers to refocus their mobile units.

CONNECT for Health Act:

The CONNECT for Health Act (H.R. 4189 / S. 2016) aims to permanently remove geographic restrictions for telehealth services provided under Medicare. This would allow substance use recovery providers to offer telehealth services from their patients’ homes and other remote locations. Currently, Medicare restricts telehealth services to specific geographic areas, limiting access for individuals receiving substance use recovery treatment. By expanding the originating sites for telehealth services, the bill would enhance access to care and improve the continuity of treatment for individuals in recovery.

Furthermore, the CONNECT for Health Act seeks to remove in-person visit requirements for virtual mental health services. This change is particularly relevant for substance use recovery providers who often offer mental health support alongside addiction treatment. By eliminating the need for in-person visits, this bill would facilitate the provision of telehealth services for mental health, reaching individuals who may face challenges attending in-person appointments due to transportation or other barriers.

State-Level Developments:

In addition to federal legislation, numerous states have also taken steps to expand telehealth access.

Hawaii passed H.B. 907, requiring reimbursement parity for telehealth services and expanding coverage to audio-only services for mental health care. This development can benefit substance use recovery providers who offer mental health counseling as part of their treatment programs. By allowing reimbursement for audio-only services, individuals who may not have access to video conferencing capabilities can still receive essential mental health support remotely. This is especially helpful for people living in remote areas with poor internet access.

In Idaho, Chapter 57 was amended to become the “Idaho Virtual Care Access Act”. In addition to updated definitions and modalities, it allows providers in good standing to practice virtual care in other states without a license.

Indiana passed S.B. 160 to enter the interstate Counseling Compact, and H.B. 1352, which allows providers and provider groups that are licensed in IN to exclusively provide services via telehealth, In addition, these providers do not have to maintain a physical presence in Indiana to be enrolled in Medicaid.

Louisiana passed S.B. 66, which removed previous licensure requirements and aligns with the Louisiana Telehealth Access Act. Another bill, H.B. No. 41, required payment and coverage parity of telehealth services.

Texas passed H.B. 617, which requires the Health and Human Services Commission to establish a pilot project to provide emergency medical services and prehospital care instruction via telehealth to rural areas. Another bill, H.B. 2727, requires coverage of home telemonitoring services under the Medicaid program.

Telehealth has emerged as a game-changer in substance use recovery treatment, expanding access to care and improving patient outcomes. By removing geographic restrictions, expanding the eligible provider list, and increasing reimbursement opportunities, these bills can enhance access to critical addiction treatment services and enable individuals in recovery to receive necessary care from the safety and convenience of their own homes.

Parity laws and interstate compacts will most likely keep expanding throughout the years. While expanding telehealth services and ensuring coverage parity could improve treatment accessibility and affordability, restrictions on cross-state practice and increased data privacy regulations might pose challenges for providers. It is crucial for stakeholders to engage with policymakers to strike a balance between enabling telehealth’s benefits and addressing potential concerns. Ultimately, as technology and healthcare policy continue to evolve, substance use recovery providers must stay informed and adapt their practices to ensure they can continue providing effective and compassionate care to those in need.

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