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Patients in MassHealth, the Massachusetts Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program, will no longer have to schedule an in-person appointment to see their therapist, psychiatrist or substance abuse counselor. Instead, they can now use interactive audio and video technology, or "telehealth," the Baker Administration announced Friday.
The announcement follows a report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation that highlighted "critical gaps" in access to mental health care and addiction services. Expanding telemedicine was one of the recommendations in the report.
“We continue to make changes in the MassHealth program – in both funding and policy – to improve access to behavioral health treatment for members,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, in a written statement about the telehealth benefit.
MassHealth, which serves 1.86 million Massachusetts residents, will reimburse providers for telehealth services at the same rate it would pay for an office visit, the administration said.
The benefit is described as "an additional avenue" for patients to seek services such as outpatient counseling or prescriptions for medications that help blunt cravings for opioids.
“Tele-behavioral health can help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our provider workforce and remove unnecessary obstacles to provide treatment for MassHealth members who have difficulty leaving their home environment, who live in rural areas, and or have other unique needs,” said Assistant Secretary for MassHealth Dan Tsai.
The Massachusetts Psychological Association welcomed the change, noting it could help reduce the number of "no-shows" for appointments.
"Telehealth and teletherapy can really make some desperately needed services available to people who otherwise can't access them," said Jennifer Warkentin, the association's director of professional affairs. "Even something as simple as having the time and money to get child care and take public transportation to get to an appointment."
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