Utah now requires payment parity for remote mental health visits

Governor Spencer Cox signed Sen. Luz Escamilla’s Mental Health Access Amendments into law on Tuesday, officially making SB 41 law. The bill requires payment parity for providers who conduct remote mental health visits, provided these visits meet certain standards of care.

 

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Escamilla tweeted a response to the bill’s passage on Tuesday:

“Thank you Governor Cox for signing this important piece of legislation that allows telehealth as a tool when addressing our mental health needs in our state.”

The bill expands mental health access by extending the telehealth payment parity measures Utah implemented during the pandemic. Now, providers conducting remote mental health visits are included. Escamilla said this is a crucial addition, as there has been a significant increase in mental health services needed due to the effects of the pandemic. 

“Mental health is becoming a big crisis and in our state we’re seeing an increase in needs, and access [to mental health care] has become very limited … The state moved, since last session, to be more practical with telehealth — it’s working well. Now, we’re bringing this telehealth component to mental health.”

According to the Commonwealth Fund, only five states had telehealth mental health parity laws prior to COVID-19. By June 2020, 21 states had implemented temporary general telehealth expansions, only 13 of which required parity.

The pandemic has demonstrated the utility of such laws and raised questions about how telehealth will be handled in a post-COVID-19 world. However, some worry about the consequences of a permanent expansion of such services. 

According to the Commonwealth Fund, an increase in telehealth use may become an “Achilles’ Heel” for both patients and medical professionals, leading to a rise in unnecessary visits and an overall increase in health care costs. 

An article from the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection says telehealth parity laws should be broadened during COVID-19 and future pandemics, but should be limited in their scope during non-emergency situations. According to the article, outside of public health crises, telehealth visits should be fully reimbursed only in specific circumstances, when the quality of the care meets or exceeds what a patient would receive through an in-person visit.

As the House sponsor of SB 41, Rep. Stewart Barlow explained these requirements will apply to the bill:

“A couple of requirements have to be made to accomplish this. One is that it has to be a service that is provided face to face by an insurance company. It also has to meet the standard from the insurer that it provides the same quality of care as what you would get in a face to face visit.”