Governor Steve Bullock today joined Alluvion Health providers to discuss how measures he took early on in the pandemic to expand telemedicine services in Montana have ensured consistent access to care for patients while reducing exposure to COVID-19 and has been identified as a tool to provide quality care long after the pandemic.
“More patients than ever are accessing health care from home in an effort to limit potential exposure to COVID-19 and protect health care workers on the frontlines, but it’s clear telemedicine can continue to be essential in Montana by reducing travel times and providing much needed flexibility,” Governor Bullock said. “The benefits of expanded telemedicine are one of the few silver linings of this pandemic and I hope it serves as a call to action. We need to find ways to make expanded telemedicine a permanent tool to address barriers to care in Montana.”
In March, Governor Bullock expanded access to telemedicine services to ensure Montana Medicaid patients receive quality health care in their homes to prevent unnecessary gatherings at health care facilities and slow the spread of COVID-19. Changes included a policy to allow patients and providers to communicate via telephone or through secure online communications. The existing policy only allowed telemedicine through video chat and left out Montanans who might not have access to video chat capabilities through laptops and smartphones.
Governor Bullock also eliminated language that prevented Medicaid from paying for telemedicine services if a patient and provider are located in the same community. A requirement that members should establish face-to-face relationships with primary care providers was also waived.
After Governor Bullock expanded telemedicine services in March, 10 times more services were delivered via telemedicine in April than in February for Medicaid Expansion members and 23 times more services were provided for patients outside of the Medicaid population.
Prior to the pandemic, Alluvion Health in Great Falls was not utilizing telemedicine, but stood up a program in 10 days to ensure continuity of quality care for their community.
“We are an organization that is committed to doing healthcare differently and ensuring whole person care. Allowing us the flexibility to quickly and effectively transition to telemedicine in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most beneficial moves that Governor Bullock could have made to help ensure access to our patients,” Trista Besich, Alluvion Health CEO, said. “By eliminating barriers to Medicaid providing payment for these critical services, Governor Bullock also helped ensure organizations such as Alluvion Health would be fiscally sound so we can continue providing the critical services our communities depend on.”
While the pandemic has created numerous challenges for Montana, it’s also identified permanent ways to improve access to care. Montana is a large state and often requires individuals to travel long distances to receive care. With telemedicine, patients can access care without lengthy travel times, limit the amount of time taken off work or school for appointments, and provide flexibility for individuals who would otherwise need to fine childcare.