Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney has secured critical support from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, the state’s largest health insurer, to continue covering telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits .
Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, involves seeing a healthcare professional online or over the phone.
Chaney’s office recently issued a bulletin alerting state health insurers that Governor Tate Reeves’ decision to end the Mississippi state of emergency on November 20 means the Department of Insurance will withdraw the authorization. emergency telemedicine insurance coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Chaney called on insurance companies to maintain coverage until the legislature can resolve the issue.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi became one of the companies that responded positively to Chaney’s call. In a statement to Chaney’s office, BCBS general counsel Cheri D. Green said, “The Blue Cross and Mississippi Blue Shield previously decided to continue their approved policy of telemedicine in the event of a novel coronavirus pandemic. (COVID-19) after the expiration of the state of emergency declared by the governor. ”
Vantage Health has also agreed to continue coverage.,
As widespread telehealth use has arrived in Mississippi as an emergency due to the pandemic, state leaders have advocated for health insurance companies to continue to cover telehealth visits due to cost savings, ease of service and better access to specialists.
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Telehealth got its start in Mississippi in 2016, when the University of Mississippi Medical Center incorporated the concept to provide services to a large portion of the state’s rural population. But much of the use, especially in mental health coverage, came after the Mississippi Insurance Department, Mississippi
The Department of Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid had come together to issue emergency rules that allowed health care practitioners to be paid for video and audio services at the same rate as in-person visits.
“The use of telemedicine during the pandemic has been an exceptional and effective method of providing consistent health care to Mississippians and has protected many from unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus,” Chaney noted in his recently published newsletter.
“Many elderly and rural residents have received consultations with their health care providers using phones or computers. People in need of mental health services received immediate, thorough and consistent treatment, especially children and adolescents who needed these types of services. The benefits of telemedicine are too great to be ignored or abandoned.
Julie Seawright of Tupelo says having access to telehealth paid for by insurance for her children during the first of the pandemic was wonderful. “During the pandemic, we used telehealth for our advanced mental health psychiatric nurse practitioner visit with RightTrack in Tupelo, Amy Thomas.”
Seawright says she and her two sons suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and that she also suffers from depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Her children no longer had to miss school for their ADHD appointments, Seawright said. “I really enjoyed being able to go from online school with the boys to not technically leaving school. They were able to interrupt their work and appear on screen to visit him.
Seawright was able to receive therapy for his depression after his boys were treated. Not having to leave home for therapy came in handy for other reasons as well. It made the therapy less stressful. Her favorite part of telehealth, says Seawright, was “not having to find shoes for every visit for two growing boys!” “
Dr Finn Perkins, a psychiatrist at Mississippi State Hospital in Whitfield, noted the telehealth figures in testimony to a joint meeting of the House and Senate insurance committees in late September. Perkins, testifying in his role as president of public affairs for the Mississippi Psychiatric Association, noted that telehealth was causing this vulnerable population to be treated at a much higher rate than was the case before the pandemic.
“Our members quickly adapted to telemedicine. They note that no-show rates have declined dramatically, with patients no longer having to leave their homes or consider traveling to access care – some even report a zero percent no-show rate, ”said Perkins. “These changes have also allowed many clinics and practices to remain open when they might otherwise have been forced to close. “
Dr. Cindy Bradshaw, administrator of the State Employees’ Health Insurance Plan, Ministry of Finance and Administration, said the uptake rate for telehealth services related to mental illness was 34 000 behavioral health visits and 17,000 psychiatric meetings.
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These figures refer to patients seen in telehealth during the pandemic, according to Marcy Scoggins, director of communications for DFA. Overall, Bradshaw pointed out to lawmakers in his testimony to the committee that the plan saved about $ 700,000 by using telehealth for a wide range of services.
Scoggins confirmed that this amount was a total savings since the advent of telehealth in Mississippi in 2016.
Chaney noted that his bulletin did not apply to the state employee plan, but that the board governing the state employee health plan (of which he is a member) bypassed the BCBS in its role of third-party administrator to offer telemedicine to its members in the first place.
The House and Senate insurance committees allowed bills to die in the last session that would have codified the role of telemedicine in the state of Mississippi. Republican Senator Nichole Boyd of Oxford said the two houses passed separate telehealth bills and were unable to reach agreement on the language of the bills.
“The bill broke last year because part of what the House offered us in the Senate would have limited Medicaid,” Boyd said.
The joint hearing in late September heard testimony on these issues from various stakeholder groups.
Perkins noted that passing legislation to make telemedicine an option for all patients in the state would serve the state’s mentally ill population particularly well.
“The MPA asks you to support continued access to telemedicine services by codifying many of these temporary changes,” said Perkins. “Without telehealth coverage and parity of payment for Medicaid and commercial insurance, Mississippi health plans can reimburse providers at unsustainable rates or choose not to cover services at all, stifling flexible access and costs. investments in virtual technologies that have been rapidly adopted and accepted this year.
This story was produced by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that seeks to inform, educate, and empower Mississippians in their communities through the use of investigative journalism.