Telepractice, sometimes known as telemedicine or telehealth, has never been more important than during the COVID-19 crisis. While Americans stayed at home to protect themselves from the spread of the virus, many – including students and individuals who relied on audiology and speech-language therapy sessions – turned to telepractice to receive the care that they need.
Even prior to the start of the COVID-19 public health crisis, telepractice services offered an effective substitute for in-person sessions. In fact, research has indicated few differences between in-person services and telepractice sessions. For student populations, especially in school districts with clinician shortages or rural areas with large distances between schools, telepractice helps bridge the gap for individuals who may not be able to access an in-person health care provider best suited to their needs.
Since the onset of COVID-19, Modern Medicaid Alliance partner American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has been working to promote coverage and access to telepractice services. ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association representing audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued guidance to assist Medicaid programs in developing telepractice policies to increase health care accessibility and limit risk of exposure during COVID-19. To ensure providers were well-equipped to navigate the changing policies and regulations released by states, ASHA developed a series of resources, including a telepractice checklist for school-based professionals and virtual presentations to help educate clinicians on best practices.
Despite the proven benefits of telepractice, it remains underutilized because of barriers that restrict full implementation, particularly the existence of different state laws that present a patchwork of accepted and non-eligible services. To track the continuous evolution of state policies and regulations on telepractice, ASHA maintains state-by-state law and regulation tracking databases on general and school-based telepractice.
In April 2021, ASHA also distributed a letter to state Medicaid Directors requesting that Medicaid programs permanently extend telehealth coverage for clinically appropriate services. Permanent telepractice coverage through the Medicaid program would expand access to these critical services for many individuals who depend on the flexibility that telepractice offers.
To learn more about telepractice, visit ASHA’s issue page here.