Packard Foundation COVID-19 Policy Flexibilities Report – Impacts and Recommendations Related to Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs

Center for Connected Health Policy

July 2021

Telehealth ensured better access to distant and specialized services, especially for those in rural areas and needing services in nearby states, as well as the potential to reduce disparities and address workforce shortages, such as those related to pediatric specialists.

Last month the Lucile Packard Foundation released a report on COVID-19 policy flexibilities that focused on impacts and recommendations related to children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN). In addition to analyzing emergency policies, they looked to clinicians, family advocates, and other stakeholders to identify both challenges and opportunities based on their experiences. The number one policy change highlighted by all interviewees was how greater use of telehealth expanded access to care and had significant advantages, particularly for CYSHCN and their families. Telehealth ensured better access to distant and specialized services, especially for those in rural areas and needing services in nearby states, as well as the potential to reduce disparities and address workforce shortages, such as those related to pediatric specialists. Stakeholders also spoke to how telehealth addresses transportation and logistical barriers, mitigating challenges such as traveling long distances, missing work, and bringing other family members along as well as cumbersome medical equipment. The report also noted that the greatest challenges were identified as systemic infrastructure issues affecting broadband access, digital literacy, and lack of interpretation services.

Based on their analysis and interviews, the report recommended CMS and state Medicaid programs extend emergency flexibilities on payment parity, audio-only and synchronous reimbursement, as well as remove geographic or rural/urban site restrictions and ease cross-state licensing laws. They also suggested the use of targeted federal funding to reduce disparities and providing grants for telehealth infrastructure and training, as well as increasing flexibility of privacy rules. For state Medicaid programs in particular, they recommended piloting additional modalities for future use such as texting, expanding school-based reimbursement and guidance, and considering reimbursement in childcare settings.

The authors heard universally from stakeholders that reimbursement and payment parity requirements were essential to the availability of telehealth. According to their review, 38 states plus DC provided Medicaid payment parity by the end of April 2020, and by September, 17 states enacted laws requiring payment parity from private insurers. In addition, some clinicians reported that telehealth reduced emergency room and inpatient utilization, but because the costs saved were not shared with hospitals, the hospital shut down the program and they are now seeing increased emergency room use and negative health outcomes. For more information, please access the full report at https://www.lpfch.org/sites/default/files/field/publications/covid-19-hma-report_1.pdf.