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Telehealth claim lines remained significantly higher in August than previous years

FAIR Health attributes the increase in telehealth utilization to the pandemic, which forced nonemergency procedures to come to a halt in March.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

The telehealth share of medical claim lines increased 3,552% from August last year to August 2020, growing from 0.17% to 6.07% year-over-year, according to data from FAIR Health's Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker.

FAIR Health's data represents the privately insured population and excludes Medicare and Medicaid.

The data followed regional trends of the pandemic from July to August. For example, telehealth claim lines increased the most (9.7%) in the South, where COVID-19 cases spiked during the summer, and decreased the most (7.7%) in the Northeast, where cases had already spiked in the spring.

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Mental health conditions continued to be the overwhelming number one telehealth diagnosis in August, with nearly half of the telehealth claim lines being for mental health conditions. Over the course of the pandemic, the percentage of mental health diagnoses have increased, going from 33.91% in March to 48.93% in August.

WHY THIS MATTERS

FAIR Health attributes the increase in telehealth utilization to the pandemic, which forced nonemergency procedures to halt in March and April.

Although many states began to reopen in May, telehealth claims have remained relatively the same from month to month and continue to stay well above usage rates from 2019. Telehealth claim lines peaked in April at 13% of all medical claims, but have since remained around 6% for the last three months of data.

"After several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has persisted in showing high utilization across the country," said Robin Gelburd, the president of FAIR Health. "FAIR Health's Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker will continue to provide a window into how this venue of care is evolving."

THE LARGER TREND

Telehealth use exploded during the pandemic for its ability to connect doctors and patients safely without fear of transmission and as a way for healthcare organizations to generate some form of revenue while nonemergency procedures were shut down.

In fact, its boom is expected to account for more than 20% of all medical visits in the U.S., which in turn is projected to drive $29 billion in total healthcare services, according to Doximity.

Following industry calls to make permanent the temporary flexibilities for telehealth allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump signed an executive order to allow Medicare to cover more than 135 services through telehealth, including physical therapy, emergency department visits, home visits, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, pediatrics, critical care and more.

Still, though, providers are waiting for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to say whether payment parity will remain when the public health emergency ends. It did recently add 11 telehealth services that will be reimbursed during the public health emergency.

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org