The increase in the use of telehealth among Medicaid recipients is one consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers at West Virginia University’s Office of Health Affairs are working with state Medicare officials to see if continuing these services would help Mountain State residents in the long run.
“When the pandemic was first announced, state Medicaid recognized that a wide range of health services would be interrupted,” said Tom Byas, associate director of program evaluation in the WVU Office of Health Affairs and associate professor in the department. the public.
“This includes things like being able to go to your doctor’s office and get some medications. Some medical facilities are closed for elective procedures. Some people are afraid to go to the doctor’s office or get prescriptions. Medicaid has put in place dozens of internal policies that have allowed for flexibility or changes in how Medicaid recipients receive care and how caregivers can be compensated for that care.”
Examples of new policies include: reimbursement for healthcare services provided to patients over the phone or the Internet, extensions of prescriptions for longer periods of time, and the ability of first responders to identify patients who are able to care for themselves at home rather than transfer them to a hospital.
Permanent changes could benefit more than a third of the mountain state’s population. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 668,534 of the state’s 1.8 million residents are covered by Medicaid, the federal interstate program that provides health insurance coverage for individuals and families with low incomes or disabilities.
“When state officials reached out, our main goal from the start was to identify policy changes that are beneficial and that may have value in the post-pandemic environment,” said Charles Mueller, principal investigator in the Office of Health Affairs. “We examined 30 policy documents that were developed in response to COVID-19 featuring 107 different policy changes. With this in mind, we have compiled a comprehensive assessment plan guided by sound strategies aimed at providing state policy makers with reliable and trustworthy data that can help improve the lives of West Virginia residents. So far, we’ve been successful in that, and we hope to continue to do so.”
“The research conducted by the WVU gives us the tools we need to make data-driven policy decisions about resilience and service delivery models to better serve West Virginia Medicaid members after the pandemic,” said Cindy Bean, commissioner of the Office of Medical Services.
Bias and Mueller collaborated with faculty from the College of Public Health, College of Nursing, and John Chambers College of Business and Economics, along with graduate student researchers, to organize and analyze the state’s Medicaid claims data. The team then reached out to patients and providers to gather their feedback on policy changes.
While they’re still compiling data and preparing a report for West Virginia Medicaid, he noted that one major takeaway is clear when it comes to telehealth.
“One of the points we have benefited from is that we saw a massive increase in telehealth initially, and while we saw some regression in that, we are still seeing a lot more use of telehealth than we were before the pandemic,” Bias said. “In general, patients and providers really liked accessing telehealth. They liked being able to use it and they saw a lot of benefits from it.”
Mueller also noted that telehealth has offered distinct advantages to patients dealing with addiction and substance abuse issues.
“Telehealth has been and continues to be an important resource for helping participants in substance use disorder programs get the counseling and treatment they need to give themselves the best chance of recovery,” Mueller said. “This is especially important for West Virginia communities who were grappling with the opioid crisis long before COVID-19 increased in complex matters.”
The Office of Health Affairs’ work reflects a growing partnership with West Virginia Medicaid to assess and track key metrics that must be reported to the federal government. The state has contracted with national companies in the past, but Bias noted that WVU offers a unique insight while saving costs.
“WVU is much more affordable than some national or other consulting firms that do assessment work, and we are able to adapt our assessment to a lot of experience around the country,” Bias said. “With a lot of the work we do for the state, we are able to draw on extensive experience through the Office of Health Affairs. We can get people from sociology, education and other areas to help as subject matter experts. They know West Virginia, and they know West Virginia people very well. We We give West Virginia specialist expertise a lot better, and also offer at a much better price.”
The WVU Office of Health Affairs strives to improve the lives of West Virginia residents by partnering with outside organizations and agencies, such as West Virginia Medicaid and DHHR, to share faculty expertise and provide professional services.
Faculty members from across campus collaborate on the programs as co-principal investigators. To explore partnership opportunities with the Office of Health Affairs, contact Natalie Ezzi, Director of Operations and Interim Director of Program Development and Management, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-293-8228.