VA Plans to Eliminate Telehealth Co-Pays

The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs will likely eliminate co-pays for telehealth consultations starting in May. The VA published a proposed rule last month suggesting that patients should be exempt from those co-pays in order to remove what might be a barrier to veterans using telehealth services.

The proposal was released March 6, and the 30-day comment period ended last week. The change will go into effect May 7 unless it received significant adverse comments.

Veterans’ co-payment amounts are based on the complexity of care provided and the resources needed to provide it.

“VA proposes to make in-home video telehealth care exempt from copayments because it is not used to provide complex care and its use significantly reduces impact on VA resources compared to an in-person, outpatient visit,” the proposal said. The VA also said telehealth will help veterans better comply with outpatient treatments.

Telehealth is becoming more and more accessible. Many patients either have the technology for video consultations in their own homes or they can find it at a nearby facility. Having to drive to a facility to have a video consultation might not seem so convenient ― but it is for someone who lives in a remote area and normally has to commute an hour or more to see his or her specialist.

More health plans are also offering access to telehealth. For example Highmark, Inc., an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, recently partnered with Teledoc to give about 10,000 patients access to telehealth through a pilot program. After the pilot, Highmark plans to offer telehealth as a covered benefit in the third quarter of 2012.

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