Doctors are now cleared to check in with patients over the phone as part of the effort to minimize the number of people in health care facilities. Private health insurance companies and Medicaid are relaxing telemedicine requirements during the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting on Friday, people covered by Montana Medicaid will be able to speak to medical providers by phone or secure online communications instead of just video chat.
Medicaid will also pay for telemedicine services for providers seeing patients living in the same community. Patients no longer need to establish a face-to-face relationship before using telemedicine with a new provider.
"As of yesterday we began to offer what we're calling virtual visits: connecting local providers to local patients. We feel this is a great benefit," says Eric Connell, CEO of Daniels Healthcare Center in Scobey.
Connell says he expects these virtual visits to maintain a sense of calm and normalcy in the face of the global pandemic.
The changes apply to medical, behavioral and substance abuse treatment.
The four private insurance companies in Montana are taking similar but varied steps voluntarily, following new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some are waiving copays and deductibles for telehealth visits and allowing early prescription refills.
The telemedicine changes come days after the governor announced that testing and treatment for uninsured Montanans would be paid for with state Medicaid and potentially federal funds starting Mar. 23.
Private insurance companies announced last week that some costs for COVID-19 testing and treatment, like copays and deductibles, will be waived.
Private insurance companies' policies vary. For more information, visit their websites. Common private companies include Allegiance, Montana Health Co-op, Pacific Source and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana.