Telehealth Combats The Opioid Crisis
According to the CDC, opioid overdoses are now the #1 cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S. Many of the states where the problem is most severe – including New Hampshire, West Virginia, and New Mexico – have far fewer hospitals than other troubled states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. Telehealth can help combat the problem in these less populous states – and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators is introducing multiple bills that would make that easier.
One of the most sweeping proposals is the e-Treat Act, which would expand Medicaid telehealth services for opioid and substance abuse disorders by eliminating site geographic restrictions. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced the bill and says “while South Dakota is fortunate to have lower rates of opioid-related deaths compared to other states, our communities are not immune to those dangers.”
Another bill with the catchy name TELECAST (Telehealth for Children’s Access to Services and Treatment Act) would make it simpler to remotely treat children with substance abuse disorders under Medicaid. There’s also a Senate bill in progress that would allow states to get federal reimbursement for remotely treating substance abuse patients.
The opioid epidemic is a growing problem for seniors, too. More than half a million Medicare patients receive prescriptions for opioids each year. For people over 65, the hospitalization rate for opioid misuse has quintupled in the last two decades. For these reasons, the Senate is also considering legislation that would allow new Social Security recipients to get free screening for substance abuse disorders as part of their initial preventive care physical exam.
An estimated 65,000 Americans will die this year from opioid overdoses – more than the number of people who will die from breast cancer in 2018. Lawmakers obviously feel that telehealth can help reduce those numbers, especially in the hospital-sparse states where the epidemic is at its worst.