The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) today announced a milestone in the use of telehealth and telephonic visits by NC Medicaid enrollees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since establishing telehealth flexibility policies in early March, NC Medicaid has processed claims for approximately more than 1.1 million telehealth and 350,000 telephonic visits.
“Improved telehealth supports our vision of a sustainable, person-centered and innovative NC Medicaid,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. “We’ve seen during the pandemic how telehealth is allowing many North Carolinians to get the care they need, and we are building a foundation that will last long after the pandemic ends.”
Telehealth, the use of two-way, real-time interactive audio and video to provide care when participants are in different physical locations, has offered many benefits to NC Medicaid enrollees and providers throughout the pandemic. NC Medicaid enacted close to 400 flexibilities since March to reduce unnecessary potential COVID-19 exposures.
Telehealth has emerged as a critical tool to connect enrollees with needed services, especially for behavioral health. Visit types that have seen the highest levels of telehealth and telephonic visits include behavioral health as well as speech, language and hearing services. From March through the middle of August, 54% of behavioral and social service visits were telehealth or telephonic. During the same time period, 48% of speech, language and hearing service visits were delivered via telehealth.
“Telehealth policies are all about being responsive to the challenges people may be facing and prioritizing their health and well-being,” said NC Medicaid Director Dave Richard. “The COVID-19 pandemic is an extraordinary event that is taking a toll on people’s mental health. It’s encouraging to see higher levels of behavioral telehealth services - that means people are getting the care they need.”
The increasing adoption and familiarity of telehealth has resulted in Medicaid creating permanent policy changes to make telehealth an enduring component of person-centered health care delivery in North Carolina. Telehealth policy changes are open for public comment through October 8, 2020. Comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NC Medicaid enrollees’ embrace of telehealth services has varied widely by geography. For example, more than 45% of Medicaid visits in Washington County since the pandemic began have been delivered through telemedicine. Meanwhile, in Gates County, where broadband access is a challenge, telehealth use levels were only around 2%. At least one in five NC Medicaid beneficiaries have used a telehealth or virtual service since the beginning of the pandemic.
Current levels of telehealth use by NC Medicaid enrollees have been declining slowly since their peak in April though remain at much higher levels than before the pandemic.
In addition to telehealth behavioral health options specifically for Medicaid enrollees, NCDHHS offers a Hope4NC Helpline (1-855-587-3463) to support any North Carolinian’s mental health during the COVID-19 crisis and to help individuals cope and build resilience.