There is a continuous debate amongst the lawmakers if the telehealth flexibilities continue the way they are even after the pandemic ends. One complex element is the dearth of insight on how telehealth would affect healthcare spending.
Apparently, virtual care may as well result in savings if payers start reimbursing it at a lower level, although it could also push the use of more services, thereby causing overall spending to rise, as per the researchers.
Research is now arriving at some inferences after two years of spike in the telehealth utilization with possibilities of how the sector is going to get regulated in the future.
KFF analysed almost 100 million claims in 2020 that were compiled by the health care cost institute in order to compare the average spending of private insurers for in person as well as telehealth evaluation, management services, and mental health therapies.
It was also found by the KFF that mental health therapy claims were almost identical in both cases, i.e., in-person and virtual care. For instance, a 30-minute psychotherapy session happened to be $48 for a privately insured individual, irrespective of the fact that it was provided through telehealth or in-person. Among the majority of the physicians who gave telehealth and in-person care, the average paid amount for the claims that were delivered virtually was almost plus or minus 10% of the claims that were delivered in person.
It is still not sure if the private insurers are continuing to pay for telehealth in comparison to in-person care. Although if they have they could make the notion more complex that telehealth decreases spends on common medical services.
As per a professor from Harvard Medical School, it is important to keep in mind that the actual value of telehealth is to increase the access to quality care as well as give access to millions of Americans. Although this is true most of the time, the system does not capture the entire economic value of telehealth when it comes to providing cost saving preventive care, thereby saving employers and patients lost time.
Gauging telehealth’s return on investment has proven to be a challenge as multiple studies have drawn conflicting inferences. For instance, the research that was released in 2022 ascertained that most patients who went ahead with telehealth did not require any in-person follow-up, suggesting that telehealth does not necessarily result in duplicative care. That said, another study from 2017 stated that virtual care enhanced healthcare utilisation as well as spending in California.
Regulations that allow for a broader telehealth payment as well as access are all set to decrease once the pandemic expires, which might be anytime in 2023.