Emergency Rule for Telemedicine Announced by Governor Abbott

Emergency Rule for Telemedicine Announced by Governor Abbott

Governor Abbott announced on March 17 adoption of an emergency rule governing telemedicine and telehealth services provided by health professionals—specifically including mental health professionals—to reduce barriers to accessing services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Abbott directed the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) to issue an emergency rule to help improve access to care, while mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

  • TDI filed an emergency rule requiring insurers to pay the same amount for telemedicine and telehealth services, including specific coverage for mental health services, as they do for in-person services.
  • The rule applies to in-network services for state-regulated health plans including Medicaid, Medicare, and TRS. In addition, health plans may not limit, deny, or reduce payments based on the platform used (i.e. Skype, FaceTime, and telephone) by the provider to deliver services, or require documentation beyond what is currently required for in-person visits. This applies specifically to HIPAA compliant platforms for telemedicine/technology assisted services. Essentially, at the federal level, Health and Human Services relaxed HIPAA standards to allow providers to use platforms that are not specifically HIPAA compliant (like FaceTime and Skype). In the HHS statement, they continued the prohibition on sites like TikTok and others that would explicitly break client confidentiality. The goal of the action is to provide access to care, whether it’s the provider or client/patient who needs to use a noncompliant platform in order for the care to take place. The emergency rule can remain in effect for up to 120 days.

The emergency rule does not expand coverage beyond what is currently included in an individual’s health care plan or cover services provided before March 17, 2020. The rule allowing health plans to deny payment for services delivered by audio-only telephone, text, or fax remains in effect.

Although the Governor’s news release and the preamble to the emergency rules focus on telemedicine, the rule itself specifically includes telehealth services provided by mental health professionals. The inclusion of mental health professionals in this emergency rule is a direct result of the coordinated advocacy and collaboration between the Texas Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers–Texas, the Texas Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the Texas Psychological Association and we are grateful for the willingness of Governor Abbott to recognize the importance of parity between physical and mental health.

TSBEMFT still awaits word on a waiver from Governor Abbott regarding something unique to LMFTs, related to the 15-hour certification/training requirement for MFTs before they can practice teletherapy. We encourage both LMFTs and LPCs to review the rules for teletherapy as provided for under the Texas Administrative Code as well as the collection of teletherapy resources (including training courses and information) provided on the TAMFT website before beginning teletherapy.

TAMFT is excited about this emergency rule and what it means for people who need care in a social distancing environment, and we look forward to continuing to advocate for LMFT’s and to protect and advance constructive mental health policies and issues before the Texas legislature. If this message was forwarded to you and you’re not a member, please consider joining TAMFT and supporting advocacy work on behalf of Texas MFTs.

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