Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has added telemental health services to its telehealth platform and expanded access to an online wellness program and will be maintaining reimbursement parity for telehealth visits.
A Massachusetts insurer is expanding coverage for mental health services delivered via telehealth.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced last week that it would offer telemental health visits through its WellConnection platform, expand access to an mHealth platform that helps address mild to moderate mental health concerns and maintain reimbursement parity for telehealth visits – including those done over a phone – beyond the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know that far too many of our members – both children and adults—are not getting the mental health care they deserve,” Andrew Dreyfus, the health plan’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “Taken together, we believe these initiatives will help address a critical need at a time when access to high quality mental health services has never been more important.”
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BCBSMA is one of a handful of payers who have taken steps to continue expanded coverage for connected health services beyond the COVID-19 crisis. The company has said it has processed more than 2.5 million new telehealth claims since expanding coverage on March 16 to address access issues caused by the pandemic.
The moves also address a surge in requests for mental health services, which started before the pandemic but ramped up significantly over the past few months. To handle that surge, BCBSMA also announced that it would increase reimbursement rates for child psychologists by 50 percent to entice more providers into the program and offer new financial incentives for primary care providers who integrate mental health services into their care platforms.
Ken Duckworth, the payer’s senior medical director for behavioral health, said offering telemental health services on WellConnection, the Blue Cross Blue Shield network’s national platform, addresses another pending issue: the need for increased telehealth services for college-aged students who may be returning to school this fall or next spring.
It “solves a novel problem,” he said. “Most psychiatrists don’t have multi-state licenses. That means if your child goes off to college in another state, chances are his or her psychiatrist can’t continue to provide services via telehealth. WellConnection has licensed psychiatrists in every state to ensure our members can get the care they need, regardless of where they are.”
By making access to the “Learn to Live” online program free to all fully insured members, officials say they’re hoping to expand interest in a coach-supported digital health program that blends health and wellness into the care routine for people who don’t need to see a doctor. Interest in the program, they noted, has tripled since the pandemic took hold.
“Most of us are experiencing higher levels of psychological distress during this uncertain and stressful time,” Duckworth said in the press release, noting the program has shown results in helping members dealing with stress, anxiety, worry and depression.
In an e-mail to mHealthIntelligence, BCBSMA officials said the expanded coverage for telemental health services comes at a time when demand for care is high and access is limited.
“We’ve taken this first step for mental health visits in part because even prior to COVID-19, the rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, and substance use were already rising across the country,” the company said. “We know people are under a tremendous amount of stress right now given everything that’s happening in the world, and the past few months have demonstrated that our members will use telehealth for mental health care.”
Source: mHealth Intelligence