Health insurers should adopt telehealth: AHIP

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As an effective strategy to curb the opioid crisis, health plans should continue to use and even expand their use of telehealth, says a new report by America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The unsettling reality of the crisis is evident in statistics from the Department of Justice, which say that on any given day, 115 people will die from an opioid-related overdose, 3,900 people will misuse a prescription opioid, and 580 people will try heroin for the first time.

AHIP’s report, entitled, “Strategies to Increase the Capacity for Substance Use Disorder Treatment,” says the use of telehealth increases efficiency and removes geographic barriers by enabling patients to meet remotely with a waivered clinician, counselor, or clinical social worker. In addition, clinicians can remotely e-prescribe medication-assisted treatment to patients, to assist in recovery.

AHIP advises health plans to increase behavioral health expertise and capacity by promoting expanded education through the ECHO project, a remote program offered through the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, which links expert specialist teams at an academic hub with primary care clinicians in local communities. The primary care physicians remotely receive mentoring and feedback from the specialists, and together they manage patient cases.

“Telehealth and other technology solutions that support treatment across the care continuum can be especially useful in bringing whole-person care to underserved areas,” AHIP says.

AHIP’s report notes the obstacles health plans continue to face in the struggle to improve and expand substance use disorder treatment, including a fragmented fee-for-service payment model, insufficient measures with which to evaluate recovery programs, clinician shortages and stigma associated with addiction and recovery.

Besides the use of telehealth, health plans can continue to effectively fight the opioid crisis by making sure clinicians who offer treatment services have the support they need. They can also encourage team-based care and address the social determinants of health, such as housing, transportation and food needs.

On a positive note, AHIP says, “While the opioid epidemic continues to devastate people and communities around the country, there are signs that this crisis may have turned a corner—opioid-related overdose deaths have fallen for six months, according to CDC statistics. This could be a result of the efforts from health insurance providers and other stakeholders beginning to slow the progression of the opioid crisis.”

According to the report, more work must be done, and AHIP urges communities, stakeholders and health plans to continue their joint efforts to tackle the epidemic.

Last month, AHIP submitted a statement to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee emphasizing that changing how America treats pain will take time, commitment and a multi-stakeholder collaboration. The association emphasized a team-based approach to care management.

For the future, as research becomes available, health plans “will need to refine coverage policies to ensure patients can access safe, effective, appropriate and efficient care, delivered by qualified practitioners,” AHIP said. But this won’t happen without a widespread cultural transformation across the health ecosystem and will entail “significant investments in the development and dissemination of knowledge.”

The AHIP report can be found here.

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