Wisconsin Lawmakers Hope to Expand Telehealth Usage

A new bill in the state would require Medicaid to cover telehealth the same as in-person services in terms of both its coverage for patients and its reimbursement for providers who see them.

by Ashley McCallum. The Janesville Gazette / August 20, 2019

(TNS) — Two Wisconsin state legislators from opposite sides of the political aisle are working together to make health services delivered by phone or computer more accessible to Medicaid recipients.

Wisconsin State Reps. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, are among the co-authors of a bill that would make it easier for providers to offer “telehealth” services and for Medicaid patients to receive coverage for them, according to a news release.

Telehealth involves the delivery of health care remotely via a computer, tablet, smartphone or other device, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

Telehealth is commonly used for virtual office visits, telestroke services, remote patient monitoring and remote evaluation of patient information.

Loudenbeck told The Gazette the bill would improve access to routine services for rural Wisconsinites and those with mobility challenges.

As someone who has worked in health care, Kolste said it was initially difficult to get behind telehealth because it works against traditional ideas and techniques for medicine. However, she said she understands that health care must keep up with technology.

The bill targets four goals to improve Medicaid coverage of telehealth, according to the release:

Requiring Medicaid to cover telehealth the same as in-person services in terms of coverage for patients and reimbursement for providers.

Allowing Medicaid to cover a number of telehealth services comparable to the number Medicare offers.

Allowing Medicaid patients to receive telehealth in homes or nonclinical settings.

Repealing additional certification requirements for providers to offer behavioral health and substance abuse services through telehealth.

The bill is being circulated for co-sponsorship and will be introduced at the end of the month, according to the release.

Changes in the bill are unlikely to increase costs for the state, other than potential upfront administrative costs, Loudenbeck said.

Studies have shown that increasing telehealth services does not increase the number of Medicaid claims because people are receiving the same services as always, just in a different way, Loudenbeck and Kolste agreed.

Lack of reimbursement and the additional certification required to provide telehealth services tend to deter providers from offering such services to Medicaid patients, Kolste said.

Providing access to mental health services was a draw for Loudenbeck. She said better access to telehealth counseling will prevent many of her constituents from having to travel to Madison or Milwaukee for counseling.

Loudenbeck said her support to expand telehealth services to Medicaid recipients does not conflict with state Republicans’ opposition to expanding Medicaid eligibility to 133% of the federal poverty level and accepting federal funding, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Loudenbeck said she wants to help people who are already part of the Medicaid system rather than bring new people into the system.

“I am focused on improving the robust system we already have in Wisconsin by ensuring that providers can provide current Medicaid enrollees with the right care, in the right place, at the right time,” Loudenbeck said in an email to The Gazette.

Kolste said she thinks the bill has bipartisan support because it is less politicized than Medicaid expansion.

She said she does not know why Republicans don’t want to save the state money and provide health care to more people by expanding Medicaid.

“I don’t understand, other than politics,” she said.

©2019 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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