COVID-19 Presents a New Chance to Make Telehealth Accessible to the Underserved

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David Smith, executive director for the Medicaid Transformation Project, says vulnerable people are being left behind by the telehealth revolution – and it's vital to address systemic racism, language barriers and social determinants of health.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, regulatory, reimbursement and technological changes have all helped trigger a massive and rapid expansion of telehealth accessibility.

At the same time, say industry leaders, vulnerable groups – especially people of color – are being left behind.

“Regrettably, minority groups are being left behind by the telehealth revolution,” said David Smith, executive director for the Medicaid Transformation Project, in an interview with Healthcare IT News.

The Medicaid Transformation Project, a strategic initiative through the healthcare innovation network AVIA, seeks to promote healthcare availability for Americans in need while reducing the overall cost of services. 

Since the pandemic began its spread across the U.S. this spring, Smith said, MTP has expanded its focus. It has broadened the definition of “vulnerable population” to include elderly people, those with chronic illnesses, people experiencing domestic violence, healthcare frontline workers and others.

“Accordingly, we’ve expanded the aperture of our work with our members and digital health companies to address these populations,” Smith explained.

“Further, as payer mix shifts in favor of government-funded programs and the strain on already underfunded programs grows, our work has come to encompass efforts to effectively manage risk in these programs,” he continued.

Even as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services moved to make telehealth more accessible – such as by reimbursing providers for services and allowing care between states – Smith said virtual care is still not available to everyone who needs it.

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