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Telehealth in Medicaid: MACPAC Pegs 5 Common Themes

By Steven Porter  
   March 16, 2018

The agency offered insights to lawmakers on what we do and don’t know about emerging technologies that may improve beneficiaries’ access to healthcare.

In a report to Congress released Thursday, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) made the case that telehealth has the potential to dramatically improve healthcare access but that many questions about the technologies remain unanswered.

As a nonpartisan legislative branch agency, MACPAC regularly offers its analysis and recommendations to lawmakers and policymakers. In its latest report—one of the two MACPAC is required by statute to deliver to Congress each year—the agency included a thorough discussion of telehealth and its potential applications for Medicaid beneficiaries.

“Although advances in technology offer great hopes for our ability to improve access to services in rural areas as well as to highly specialized services where the supply of providers is limited, evidence on the effectiveness and outcomes of telehealth is mixed,” MACPAC chair Penny Thompson, MPA, wrote in an opening letter.

Related: MedPAC Urges Congress to Axe MIPS

Almost every state and the District of Columbia offered some telehealth coverage in fee-for-service Medicaid last year, but the ways telehealth is currently used vary from state to state, according to MACPAC’s report.

Regardless, the agency identified five common themes that appear to apply nationwide:

1. Change is in the air.

The ways states cover telehealth in their Medicaid programs are shifting, MACPAC noted in its report.

“Over time, states have expanded coverage for telehealth and further expansions of coverage to new modalities, services, or specialties are likely,” the report states.

“In addition, ongoing advances in technology could lead to new opportunities for telehealth. As states consider how to improve access to care, they may consider a greater role for telehealth particularly in areas such as behavioral health or chronic disease management where the evidence of its effectiveness is relatively strong.”

2. More info about stakeholder experience is needed.

Policymakers and providers still have a lot to learn about the impact telehealth has on their own experiences and those of the Medicaid beneficiaries they serve, MACPAC said.

Steven Porter is editor at HealthLeaders.

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