Technology | 07.01.21
Telemedicine Took Off in the Pandemic. California Is Now Debating Costs If It Endures
Now that more physicians and their patients are returning to in-person appointments, policymakers nationwide are divided over how much taxpayer money to keep spending on phone appointments. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, they have been a lifeline for Medicaid and Medicare patients who lack the technology for video visits. But critics contend they do not provide the same level of patient care and are not worth the same price. California's Democratic-controlled Legislature wants Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income people, to keep paying for phone appointments at the same rate as for video and in-person visits. However, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget plan directs Medi-Cal to cut the rate. Medi-Cal paid for 2.4 million phone appointments from March 2020, through this April. The federal Medicare program and most state Medicaid programs rarely paid for phone visits prior to the pandemic. But after doctors shuttered their offices and patients sheltered in place, Medicare and almost every state Medicaid program started paying for phone visits. More private insurers started counting phone calls as telemedicine visits, also.