According to research findings reported in Psychiatric Services, adoption of expensive telehealth technologies for mental health services may be hampered by low reimbursement from insurers. Dr. Fernando Wilson, an associate professor in the department of health services research and administration at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Public Health, led a research team which examined claims submitted by mental health and substance abuse providers from 2009 to 2013 using data from the Health Care Cost Institute—one of largest sources of private claims data in the U.S. Wilson’s research team stratified the claims according to services provided via telehealth versus non-telehealth, and by International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) and Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes.
The study reported that reimbursements for telehealth claims averaged half of those for non-telehealth claims for the same services. For nine out of 10 of the most common procedures, non-telehealth claims were associated with higher reimbursements than telehealth claims. Furthermore, the study found that few claims were actually being submitted for telehealth services in comparison to non-telehealth claims. The researchers concluded that policymakers may need to consider additional strategies to ensure that providers have incentives to translate effective telehealth technologies into practice.
The research team consisted of Dr. Fernando Wilson (UNMC College of Public Health), Dr. Sankeerth Rampa (Rhode Island College), Dr. Kate Trout (Peru State College), and Dr. Jim Stimpson (City University of New York). The study was funded by the Health Care Cost Institute.