Mental Health Telehealth Visits Rapidly Increase During the Pandemic
MINNETONKA, Minn. — Medica members accessing mental health care through telehealth technology has increased by 2,515 percent since the pandemic began in March 2020. Meanwhile, Medica's network of providers offering mental health care via telehealth has increased more than sixfold in the same period.
"For six years, Medica has understood the value of telehealth services for providing mental health care and has been paying providers for these visits at the same rate as in-person visits," said John R. Mach, M.D., Medica's chief medical officer. "When it became clear to us early in the pandemic that telehealth care was particularly well-suited for taking care of our members' mental health needs, we worked quickly with our provider partners to build a more robust network to support our members."
In the first quarter of 2020, early in the pandemic, Medica processed approximately 650 telehealth claims for mental health. During a similar time stretch spanning late 2020 to early 2021, Medica had processed 17,000 claims.
An analysis of mental health telehealth claims provide some insight to the effect of the pandemic. The top three conditions treated by telehealth were anxiety, depression and trauma (which includes diagnoses for post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder and reactive attachment). For those conditions, approximately 70 percent of claims were telehealth visits.
A breakdown of mental health telehealth claims for all conditions shows that people ages 35 to 49 used this service the most when seeking mental health care, followed by those ages 27 to 34. For those claims, women outnumbered men by a 3:2 ratio.
In the first few months of the pandemic, the number of Medica's in-network providers offering mental health services through telehealth increased from 5,500 to 39,800 nationally. In Minnesota, the number increased from 3,841 to 7,130.
A key factor in the network expansion was that Medica, with its behavioral health vendor, fast-tracked the onboarding process for providers who wanted to offer telehealth visits. Medica also worked with providers to quickly move visits to a virtual setting to minimize care interruptions as patients were more hesitant to have face to face appointments during the pandemic.
"At a time when people's mental health was drastically impacted by the pandemic, we were pleased that Medica stepped up to ensure continued — and enhanced — access to mental health treatment through telehealth," said Sue Abderholden, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota. "On behalf of NAMI Minnesota, we appreciate Medica's commitment to payment parity because whether it's in person or through telehealth or even telephonic, mental health professionals deserve fair reimbursement for the important care they provide."
Paying telehealth visits at the same rate
Medica has reimbursed mental health visits via telehealth at the same rate as in-person visits since 2013.
Medica mental health pandemic experience
"Payment reimbursement at the same rate regardless of delivery mode is one of the reasons Medica was able to respond so quickly to our members' needs for mental health services through telehealth," Mach said. "Providers who were perhaps on the cusp of providing the service already had an incentive in place and they quickly saw the value it would bring to their patients."
The future of mental health by telehealth
Medica has placed a priority on ensuring its members have access to mental health care in the setting that is most comfortable for them. To ensure they have access to the highest quality providers, Medica will continue to reimburse these visits — office and telehealth — at the same rates.