The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth services for many California health care providers and systems. While many of the flexibilities to telehealth service delivery may remain permanent, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) proposed removing payment parity for telephone/audio-only services after the public health emergency ends. This could have a negative impact on access to health care services for underserved populations with limited internet access, access to live video technology, or transportation or employment flexibility for an in-person visit. This policy analysis examines the impact of regulations that allow for an incremental transition from payment parity for audio-only visits to a reimbursement schedule that promotes live video visits. This approach can help to safeguard the reimbursement and availability of audio-only services for Medi-Cal providers while allowing for adequate investment in technological infrastructure that would allow safety net providers and systems to adopt and tailor accessible live video services for their populations. As more research is being conducted on the effectiveness of telehealth services through audio-only modalities, it is critical to maintain equitable access to telehealth services for all Medi-Cal patients. California’s DHCS must synthesize information from critical stakeholders to guide current telehealth policy proposals with the goal of lowering barriers to access to telehealth for Medi-Cal patients while providing high-quality services.
June 30, 2021