Government Accountability Office Asks CMS to Assess Telehealth Quality for Medicaid Beneficiaries
With rising use of telehealth around the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) wants the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to evaluate the impact of that increase on care quality for Medicaid beneficiaries. Data from Arizona, California, Maine, Mississippi, and Missouri, show significant increases in the number and percentage of services provided via telehealth, and in the number of Medicaid recipients who have been treated with remote care. In all, 32.5 million services were delivered via telehealth from March 2020 through February 2021, up from 2.1 million services in the previous year, while 4.9 million Medicaid beneficiaries in those five states used telehealth technology during that period, up from 455,000 in the year-ago period. GAO noted that CMS does not currently collect, assess, or report data about any effect that delivering services using telehealth has on the quality of care for Medicaid beneficiaries, but it hopes to change that. "It would also be consistent with how CMS has encouraged states to use data on quality of care to identify disparities in healthcare and target opportunities for improvement to advance health equity," GAO said. According to a December 2021 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), telehealth utilization rose 63-fold during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the highest use among behavioral health providers. A third of all visits to behavioral health specialists in 2020 were via telehealth, compared with 8% of visits to primary care providers and 3% of visits to other specialists. HHS noted that further study could help better understand why some beneficiaries used telehealth services less than others and the impact on the quality of care.
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