Extension of Coverage for Telemental Health by Insurance Companies
Our GWSCSW Virginia Legislation and Advocacy Committee met with our lobbyist, Sue Roland, via Zoom on July 17. We focused on the issue of extending telemental health (video and audio) insurance coverage and to eventually making it permanent. According to Sue, Scott Johnson, the lobbyist for the Virginia Medical Society, said that he does not think that anything will really change regarding payment and interactions with insurance companies until well into next year. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that private insurers will continue to cover telemental health services. However, Secretary Azar has extended the public emergency declaration that covers Medicare reimbursement until October 23, 2020.
Our Committee members joined Sue Roland and the Board of the Virginia Society for Clinical Social Work (VSCSW) on July 18, to discuss mutual legislative concerns. We decided to form a committee of members from both societies to focus on this issue in preparation for the 2021 convening of the General Assembly. Eventually, we will be requesting information and feedback from GWSCSW's Virginia members that will help us in this task.
Laura Groshong, Director, Policy and Practice, Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA), has stated that the goals of CSWA are to make telemental health a permanent option through federal laws; to make reimbursement for telemental health at the same level as for in office visits; and to compare the use of in office and telemental health treatment delivery methods. They will also be focusing on the issue of variation in state rules that allow LCSWs in one state to see patients in another state virtually or through audio.
Review of Health Insurance Coverage for Behavioral health and Medical Services
In 2020, the General Assembly passed HB 280, requiring the State's Bureau of Insurance (BOI) to collect and report new information in its annual report, comparing health insurance claims for behavioral health services to those for medical services. The bill also directs the Joint Legislative Review Commission (JLARC) to evaluate whether BOI's annual report includes sufficient information to assess whether health insurance plans are adequately covering behavioral health services (parity).
The legislation requires JLARC to report recommendations for modifying the report to the Senate and House Commerce and Labor Committees and to the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the Commonwealth in the Twenty-First Century.
This work will be completed by JLARC's Health and Human Resources Unit. JLARC staff will determine whether Virginia is collecting adequate information from insurance plans to assess parity and evaluate whether insurance plans appear to be meeting parity requirements. If the team determines there are not enough behavioral health providers in some networks, JLARC staff will collect provider and insurance plans' perspectives on the reasons for that.
HB 51 directs several agencies to jointly study the feasibility of developing an early childhood mental health consultation program that would be available to all early care and education programs serving children from birth to 5 years of age. A final report is due by the start of the 2021 General Assembly session.
(Thanks to Sue Roland for the information on these pertinent bills.)
From the Governor
Governor Ralph Northam has called a special session on August 18, 2020 to resolve the budget.
On July 15, "Governor Ralph Northam announced the adoption of statewide emergency workplace safety standards in response to the novel coronavirus, or Covid-19. These first-in-the-nation safety rules will protect Virginia workers by mandating appropriate personal protective equipment, sanitation, social distancing, infectious disease preparedness and response plans, record keeping, training and hazard communications in workplaces across the Commonwealth. The actions came in the absence of federal guidelines." (Taken from a press release from the Governor's office.)
HB 795, which would have allowed associations that represent independent contractors to create and provide their own medical insurance plans to their members was passed by both houses and vetoed by the Governor.
HB 1301, which became law on July 1, 2020, "created the Office of Children's Ombudsman, charged with reviewing and investigating the Commonwealth's child-serving agencies to ensure that children and their families are being treated with fairness."
Judy Ratliff, LCSW, (recently retired from work but not from GWSCSW or from life) Co-Chair, VA Legislation and Advocacy Committee.
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