Throughout the pandemic, use of telehealth services grew dramatically, and use remains high. (Getty Images)
As the pandemic era wanes, Nevadans are pushing to keep the telehealth expansions permanent at the state and national levels.
U.S. Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) last week introduced the bipartisan Strengthening Telehealth and Education for Rural Communities Act, which would reauthorize a pandemic-era grant program that provides funding to tribal and rural communities for telehealth.
At the state level, lawmakers unanimously approved a bill to continue a temporary pandemic-era law requiring third-party insurers to cover telehealth appointments at the same rates as in-person care. A separate law was passed to extend telehealth services to include forensic medical examinations for sexual assault and strangulations.
Both the federal and state efforts come at a time when Nevada continues to struggle with recruiting and retaining medical professionals, particularly in rural and frontier communities
“At a time when every county across Nevada is being impacted by the doctor shortage, telehealth has become an essential tool for Nevadans in rural communities to access health services,” Rosen said in a press release.
The state’s response to COVID-19 allowed telehealth calls to be on non-HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant platforms. It also expanded the types of health care people could get via telehealth. Federal changes also allowed telehealth services to extend beyond state lines, allowed telehealth for people on Medicare and waived having a pre-existing patient and provider relationship.
The use of telehealth services for behavioral health conditions increased dramatically during the pandemic. While utilization dipped from early pandemic peaks, use remains high.
The state law, SB 119, requires insurance to pay the same amount for telehealth services as in-person services if the care is delivered to patients in rural areas, by certain health care facilities, or for counseling and treatment related to a mental health condition or substance use disorder, including services delivered through an audio-only telehealth interaction; and are provided to patients on or after July 1, 2023.
Rosen’s bill expands on the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant program, which grants $50,000 to $1 million to states and local governments, tribes, nonprofits and others to support health care needs stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for future pandemic events, ensuring racial equity, and rebuilding our rural economy.
Renown Regional Medical Center, which is the primary referral center for Northern Nevada that covers 100,000 square miles and services approximately 1 million people, was chosen for the Rosen-Lummis DLT Grant Program, according to a statement by Dr. Jayson Morgan, the director of cardiovascular services at Renown Health.
“These grants and other investments in telehealth are critical to ensuring health equity in our rural communities and improving the quality of care in our state,” he said in a press release. “I offer my full support to the reauthorization of this bill.”
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