Health Outcomes: Facts & Figures
A recent analysis by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) reveals that an overwhelming majority of health centers (96 percent) predict patients will have a harder time accessing care and suffer poorer health outcomes unless flexible telehealth policies are continued. At the onset of the pandemic, health centers ramped up virtual check-ins, audio-only visits and e-visits for a range of services. Nearly all (98 percent) health centers provided telehealth services at some point during the pandemic to their 30 million patients, compared to only 43 percent of health centers before the pandemic. The expansion was spurred by actions of Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to loosen pre-pandemic Medicare and Medicaid telehealth restrictions. These flexibilities and boosts in Medicare reimbursement allow health centers to reach more vulnerable patients, lower rates of missed appointments, and make it easier to treat chronic health conditions.
Many of the current telehealth flexibilities will expire upon the declared end of the public health emergency (PHE), unless federal and state lawmakers take action. This includes recognizing health centers as distant site providers, eliminating originating site restrictions to allow providers to deliver care – and patients to receive care – from any location, and ensuring adequate reimbursement for telehealth services at rates equal to an in-person visit.
According to the NACHC, many health center patients – especially vulnerable seniors and others who live below the poverty level, in rural areas, and suffer from chronic health conditions – may fall through the cracks once the PHE ends. Patients who need behavioral health services and suffer substance use disorders, both of which skyrocketed during the pandemic, are at particular risk. 90 percent of health centers surveyed predicted there will be greater difficulty reaching vulnerable populations, while 95 percent predicted there will be reduced access to care, and 71 percent said there will be worse health outcomes for patients with chronic health conditions.
Source: National Association of Community Health Centers