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Get to Know Telehealth: Payment Parity Legislation

 
Legislative flexibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed health centers to expand the use of telehealth services. Read on to learn more about steps the Tennessee General Assembly is taking to make some of these flexibilities permanent.
 
The COVID-19 pandemic was a major catalyst for the adoption and expansion of telehealth services for community health centers because state and federal laws and regulations, and executive orders allowed for payment and location flexibilities (ex: a patient could be at home while receiving telehealth services). During the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association of Community Health Centers reported that 98% of community health centers were using telehealth services compared to only 43% in 2018.1 
 
How do health centers use telehealth to care for patients? 
By July of 2021, 95% of community health centers were using audio and video telehealth for medical services and 90% were using those modes for behavioral health services.2 Although some health centers in Tennessee were utilizing telehealth prior the COVID-19 pandemic, state and federal flexibilities catalyzed an increase in reliance on these services to provide high-quality care to patients, while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.  
 
During the pandemic, health centers in Tennessee relied on telehealth to keep patients and staff safe while meeting the needs of their patients, including an increased demand for behavioral health services. 
 
Patients were able to receive behavioral health care in a convenient manner, while reducing the stigma that can be associated with seeking care for behavioral health needs. In addition to behavioral health services, community health centers used telehealth for a share of medical visits, such as non-critical medical visits and follow-up visits. 
 
How would legislation be support continued use of telehealth services? 
In 2020, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that allowed for enhanced telehealth flexibilities, including a requirement that telehealth services be reimbursed the same as in-person telehealth services in the commercial market, a concept known as payment parity. However, this provision was set to sunset, or automatically terminate on April 1, 2022. 
 
Senator Ken Yager and Representative David Hawk are sponsoring, SB2453/HB2655 to permanently allow for payment parity. The legislation also clarifies that the requirement for patients to see a physician in person within the past 16 months for telehealth reimbursement is not in effect during a state of emergency. The bill passed out of the House Insurance Subcommittee this week and will head to the full House Insurance Committee for consideration. If passed, this legislation would support the ability of health centers to capitalize on telehealth technology to care for patients across Tennessee. 
 
 
 
[1] The Health Center Program and Increasing Access to Comprehensive Care Through the Use of Telehealth: An Update During COVID-19. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.nachc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Telehealth-FS-2020-BPHC-Final.pdf
[2] Telehealth and Health Centers During COVID-19. (2022) Retrieved from https://www.nachc.org/research-and-data/research-fact-sheets-and-infographics/health-centers-and-audio-only-telehealth-during-covid-19/

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