Rapid Growth In Mental Health Telemedicine Use Among Rural Medicare Beneficiaries, Wide Variation Across States

Published in: Health Affairs, Volume 36, Number 5 (May 2017), pages 909-917. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2016.1461

Posted on RAND.org on June 06, 2017

by Ateev Mehrotra, Haiden A. Huskamp, Lori Uscher-Pines, Bruce E. Landon, Anupam B. Jena, Alisa B. Busch

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Congress and many state legislatures are considering expanding access to telemedicine. To inform this debate, we analyzed Medicare fee-for-service claims for the period 2004–14 to understand trends in and recent use of telemedicine for mental health care, also known as telemental health. The study population consisted of rural beneficiaries with a diagnosis of any mental illness or serious mental illness. The number of telemental health visits grew on average 45.1 percent annually, and by 2014 there were 5.3 and 11.8 telemental health visits per 100 rural beneficiaries with any mental illness or serious mental illness, respectively. There was notable variation across states: In 2014 nine had more than twenty-five visits per 100 beneficiaries with serious mental illness, while four states and the District of Columbia had none. Compared to other beneficiaries with mental illness, beneficiaries who received a telemental health visit were more likely to be younger than sixty-five, be eligible for Medicare because of disability, and live in a relatively poor community. States with a telemedicine parity law and a pro–telemental health regulatory environment had significantly higher rates of telemental health use than those that did not.

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