Reimbursement for Telespeech

by Ben Beckstrom on March 21, 2012

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Telespeech is a far more cost-effective and convenient solution than hiring a speech-language pathologist for private, in-person session, but paying for telespeech therapy can be a challenge for families on a tight budget. Fortunately, there are financial options.

School telespeech

Under federal law, schools are obligated to provide help for disadvantaged students, and many schools are adopting telespeech as a low cost solution to address the needs of children with speech and language disorders. Public school students get help free of charge, and parents can reinforce speech lessons by providing computer equipment and downloading apps recommended by their child’s SLP. For low income families, or families without health insurance, public school services are a great treatment option.

 

Private health insurance

To date, telespeech must be covered in some states by insurers who cover SLP services. Maine and New Hampshire have this comprehensive law, but in most states, it is wise to contact your insurance company to determine whether telespeech services will be covered. Some insurers make coverage decisions on a case-by-case basis.

 

Medicare

Congress passed telehealth legislation in 1997 and 2000 that covered specific areas of telehealth practice. These laws are limited in scope. Approved facilities that offer telespeech services must be located in a rural area outside a major metropolitan area, where there is a shortage of health practitioners. Currently, telespeech services are not on the list of covered services, but this is expected to change in the future. One bill introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) currently under review by the Senate is the Rural Telemedicine Enhancing Community Health (TECH) Act of 2009. This bill would require the Health and Human Services (HHS) department to establish pilot programs to explore telehealth service expansion to evaluate telespeech services for stroke victims, among other things.

 

With Senator Udall and others fighting to bring these issues to the forefront of the discussion, things can be expected to eventually change.

 

Medicaid

While Medicaid is a federal/state program, states have the right to determine coverage for low-income recipients. Many states cover telehealth services, and some of those include telespeech. Medicaid providers are especially cost conscious and often deal with patients who have transportation or other barriers to treatment. These powerful motivators are most likely to result in widespread implementation of telespeech coverage for Medicaid patients.

 

Telespeech is growing in popularity across the country as providers and insurers realize the efficacy and value of the service. Legislation often takes time, but the benefits are undeniably attractive from every perspective. Speech-language pathologists can get involved by advocating telespeech and telehealth issues. Contact state and federal representative to support insurance, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for telespeech. Visit the Take Action page at ahsa.org to add your voice or enroll your site to collect data for current initiatives.

 

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