Home Advocacy Our Profession’s Biggest Open Secret

Our Profession’s Biggest Open Secret

by Melissa Jakubowitz

What’s the biggest open secret in our field? Each of us might have slightly different answers. Here’s mine: the reason so many students are blocked from receiving needed services is because their home states have not updated their Medicaid telepractice policies.

Children who qualify for Medicaid coverage, by definition, are from low-income families. My experience is that these children are disproportionately affected by the shortage of SLPs and could therefore benefit a great deal from access to treatments delivered via telepractice.

In addition, many schools, when faced with tight budgets, simply do not have the money to hire additional SLPs–telepractice or not–without Medicaid funds.

This places an unfair burden on the rural and urban schools that need telepractice the most. They struggle more than their affluent peers to find qualified SLPs. One reason is that those wealthier districts can pay substantially more for treatment delivered via telepractice if state Medicaid policies haven’t been updated to reimburse for online services.

This isn’t the most surprising part of the secret, however. That honor goes to how easily states can make the change. Consider this:

  • The federal government, which partners with each state on its Medicaid plan, has already approved billing for telepractice. That’s right, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services already has an approved billing treatment for treatment delivered via telepractice.
  • All reimbursements for telepractice are paid for entirely by the federal government. This means that states don’t pay for additional reimbursements out of pocket. Let me repeat that one more time: allowing reimbursement for telepractice increases access to services without requiring additional funds from your state’s Medicaid program.
  • For all states that PresenceLearning has researched—aside from Indiana—allowing reimbursement for telepractice is as simple as publishing a clarifying policy memo. The memo should say that online services can be billed with the same codes as traditional sessions as long as a “GT” telepractice modifier is included for tracking purposes.

It is important to keep in mind that telepractice is just a different delivery method for services already approved by CMS and reimbursed by Medicaid in schools.  SLPs provide online services using the same approaches and materials they would use if they were physically at the school site. 

What can you do to help students get the treatment they need by motivating your state to write that memo?

  • Speak to stakeholders to build a consensus. Stakeholders include: ASHA, state licensing boards, special education directors, state departments of special education and directors of child health programs for your schools.
  • Consult state-level billing agents on the best way to document services to ensure program integrity.
  • Network with colleagues using telepractice to find out which states currently approve Medicaid funding for telepractice.

There are eight states that reimburse for telepractice services. They include: Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia. In addition, reimbursement for telepractice services are pending in California and Michigan.[Note from ASHA editors: This list was published in July 2013, so it may have changed. Our December issue focused on telepractice and has a slightly different list of states offering reimbursement.] 

Contact state speech and hearing associations or state-level Medicaid directors to find out how you can assist in getting Medicaid reimbursement for telepractice services. Let’s work together to ensure students who need our services receive them and schools receive the appropriate funding from Medicaid.

Melissa Jakubowitz M.A. CCC-SLP, vice president of clinical services at PresenceLearning, is an SLP with more than 20 years of clinical and managerial experience, Melissa is a Board Recognized Specialist in Child Language. She is a past-president of the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is also active in ASHA, serving as a Legislative Counselor for 12 years. Melissa began her career working in the public schools and can be reached at melissa@presencelearning.com

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2 comments

Shawnalee January 7, 2015 - 9:05 pm

Telepractice can be a slippery slope. I have seen it replace on site services from a local clinician as it was seen as less expensive.

Nancy January 19, 2015 - 10:15 am

Thank you for sharing this information. Telepractice is certainly a key component to reaching individuals who require services but do not have easy access within their community. While I have never provided services using this modality I have certainly considered it. Presence Learning has certainly helped tremendously in this area and as a therapist I truly appreciate their online webinars-always very valuable and current.

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