The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every facet of our daily lives — from where we work and worship to how our children learn and play. In response, federal and state governments have made policy changes to lessen the devastating impact the virus is having in our communities.
In order to help policymakers and advocates navigate these changes and what they mean for Missourians, we’ve developed a series of publications on issues that impact Missourians’ health during and after the public health emergency. Over the next few months, we will explore existing challenges and recommend solutions that support the public health infrastructures needed to create healthy communities. In our first brief, we’re looking at ways policy changes can support telehealth to ensure Missourians have access to the care they need.
Telehealth holds enormous potential for improving access to care, especially for those most impacted in a health crisis. In fact, early data show that Medicare beneficiaries are utilizing telehealth during COVID-19, with nine million receiving a telehealth service between mid-March and mid-June. It is also promising for rural communities that face significant geographical barriers to care.
Due to the emerging need for virtual care, administrative rules regarding telehealth were quickly relaxed. These changes had three goals: reduce patient barriers to care, expand access to a variety of virtual services, and increase the number and types of providers eligible for telehealth reimbursement. Though in-person care is still necessary in some instances, these temporary policy changes have allowed telehealth to emerge as a viable alternative to traditional care.
These policy changes have temporarily increased access to telehealth services, though permanent changes must be made to meet the expected demand for virtual health care post-pandemic. Some barriers, however, will still need to be addressed, including statewide broadband access, funding for technology and training, and education on telehealth reimbursement policy for providers.
As we look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth and other emerging health issues provide an opportunity for us to think innovatively about how to transform current health policy to ensure every one of us has the support we need to stay healthy.
Check out our first brief in our COVID-19 policy series, “Navigating COVID-19: Health Policy Solutions – Telehealth,” and keep an eye out for our subsequent publications in the coming months.