California Invests in Teletherapy
The state of California approved Medicaid reimbursement for schools that use online speech therapy services, just in time to start the 2016-17 school year. This applies to any student who is eligible for Medi-Cal and has either an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or an individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP).
Live online speech pathology service, also known as telepractice, is a motive service delivery recognize by the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and is supported by decades of peer review research studies. These studies show it provides the same or better results compared to face-to-face delivery. As such, government policy at both the federal and state level is now catching up. In 2015, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) clarified their policy on reimbursement for telemedicine services, allowing each state to reimburse for the telemedicine services that have equivalent face-to-face services.
Live online therapy services provide students with the same high-quality instruction, regardless of an agency’s on-site therapist situation. In instances where there are not enough speech language pathologists available to provide face-to-face services, these students can still get the quality lessons they need.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools and districts are required to provide special needs students with special education and services such as speech and language therapy. But with a national shortage of qualified therapists and challenges related directly to California’s demographics and geography – including the long commute to hard-to-reach schools – there is difficulty attracting professionals to certain locations. There’s also difficulty serving large populations of bilingual children, which makes it hard to appropriately staff SLP programs to provide on-site services to children in need.
Telespeech therapy has been an effective and efficient alternative for many years, but the lack of Medi-Cal reimbursement for services men that those districts that chose to use telespeech were placed at an economic disadvantage, even if it was the only practical option to provide the necessary services to their students. Under the new billing policy, California schools that choose to use teletherapy will receive the same reimbursement funds as the districts that are delivering treatment on-site.
This arrangement means qualified SLP professionals living anywhere in the country can connect with students who need services, regardless of where the students are located. For instance, therapists based in North Carolina can work with students in the underserved areas of California, to ensure that all students receive quality speech therapy care under the terms of their IEP or IFSP.