The COVID-19 health emergency is over, but New York State officials advised Monday that Medicaid will continue to cover health services delivered by computer or phone.

Medicaid coverage of telehealth services expanded during the pandemic as more and more people reached for their smartphones for virtual visits with their doctors. That expansion was due to expire 151-days after the end of the public health emergency — which officially ended on May 11.

But Congress extended that Medicaid coverage through Dec. 31, 2024 with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. The federal government required New York to first update its Medicaid program to comply with certain regulations regarding patient safety, the health department said.

“Medicaid’s telehealth coverage during the public health emergency enabled flexibility and improved access to care, especially for behavioral and mental health services, for individuals and providers in medically underserved communities in New York,” New York State Medicaid director Amir Bassiri said in a news release Monday. “Maintaining these flexibilities and expanding access to medically appropriate telehealth services is a critical strategy to our goal of advancing health equity for all New Yorkers.”

Medicaid requires that health care providers who offer telehealth services also offer in-person care, according to the state health department. More than 80% of New Yorkers accessed health care through telemedicine in 2020 and 2021, according to a 2020 health department survey. That survey found that 95% of respondents said not needing to travel to see a doctor saved time and money.

Susan Wilner, assistant director of behavioral health services operations at Stony Brook Medicine, said the expansion of telehealth has improved access for Medicaid patients.

“We had to pivot very quickly in 2020 and almost open up the floodgates for telemedicine,” Wilner said. "While not everyone has Wi-Fi or a computer, many people have smartphones with video capabilities that allow providers to give many kinds of care remotely.

“On Long Island...many people who are served by Medicaid may not have transportation, may not own a car,” Wilner said. “So this has really been a game changer for people who prior to this may have really been underserved or unserved.”

Although the pandemic is mostly over, telehealth remains popular, she said.

“There's a lot of people who really like the convenience of telemedicine and for those who don't, the old, traditional in-person care is always available to them,” she said. 

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