Telehealth services at risk if Missouri General Assembly doesn’t make changes

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers are being asked to protect telehealth services, including audio-only options, in the upcoming legislative session.

There weren’t many positives that came out of the pandemic, but one notable exception is the advancement of telehealth services. But imagine if you’re one of the 400,000 Missouri households without high-speed internet access. That’s where audio-only healthcare makes the difference. 

“This is a bill that makes medicine easier for physicians,” said Chuck Hollister, CEO of the Missouri Psychological Association. “What we’ve seen in some parts of the country is that they are starting to roll back some of these services. They liberalized these rules to kind of cope with the pandemic.”

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It’s a piece of legislation looking to protect one way of healthcare for Missourians. Hollister said Missouri needs to join more than 20 other states in making sure insurance providers don’t do away with reimbursements for telehealth services. 

“In some cases, we’ve seen them [insurance companies] cut the reimbursement for audio-only telehealth, so we’re going to reimburse it, but we’re going to reimburse it at such a low rate that the provider can’t cover their cost,” Hollister said. 

During the pandemic, millions used telehealth services to continue with care when in-person visits weren’t possible. Today, it’s used to meet the demand of health care with a lack of providers. 

“We already knew access was an issue before, but it’s become even more pronounced,” said Rep. Melanie Stinnett, R-Springfield. “Things like this will help to expand the access to services that are so much needed and can make a real difference.”

Stinnett is sponsoring House Bill 1907. One version of the bill would require equitable reimbursement for telehealth services while protecting audio-only options. 

“I don’t think the future of health care makes sense without having telehealth as part of it,” Stinnett said. “When you look at those challenges with broadband and high-speed internet in our rural communities, audio options really are a solution that can save time and money.”

Hollister said that currently, about a third of all telehealth appointments are done via audio-only. Both Medicare and Missouri’s Medicaid program have already made permanent provisions to cover telehealth appointments. Now, the goal is to make other insurance companies follow suit. 

“The fact of it is, we think somewhere between half a million and a million Missourians really depend on it,” Hollister said. “A third of elderly people don’t have smart phones, and they don’t have computers, so how do they get help?” 

Another provision of the bill prevents insurance companies from mandating which platforms health care providers use for telehealth services. 

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“We’ve seen in some states where insurance companies want you [the physician] to use the company’s platform,” Hollister said. “Then you have to use a different platform for every insurance company, you would spend all of your time focused on learning the technologies, certainly not helping people.”

The legislation is bipartisan and has also been filed by Sen. Lauren Authur, D-Kansas City. She filed Senate Bill 931 with similar language to Stinnett’s bill. 

The 2024 Legislative Session starts Jan. 3. 

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