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We are keeping abreast of any changes affecting mental health professionals on the state and national level, and we will continue to share the updates that we receive regarding Telehealth, HIPAA, and our licensing requirements as we become aware of them.
Here is the latest information:
From Texas AMFT:
May 1, 2020 | Texas AMFT Legislative Update
"Abbott Approves Suspension of TSBEMFT Teletherapy Training Rule
Late last week, Texas Health & Human Services (HHSC) released a guidance letter (GL 20-5000) in connection with a waiver of certain telehealth rules for LMFTs and LMFT Associates to provide counseling services to clients via audio and video without first receiving the education, training, or supervised experience as required by TSBEMFT’s current rule. The TSBEMFT rule was suspended by Governor Abbott and shall remain so until terminated by the Governor, or until the disaster declaration is lifted or expires.
Under this waiver, LMFTs and LMFT Associates (under appropriate supervision) may immediately provide counseling to clients via audio and video services without receiving education, training, or supervised experience in the specific technology. In addition, LMFTs and LMFT Associates will not be required to maintain documentation of their training or supervision related to technology-assisted services at this time. LMFTs and LMFT Associates will be required to comply with the original provisions at a later date, as required by HHSC.
TAMFT and TSBEMFT encourage members to seek out appropriate introductory training before conducting teletherapy. TAMFT offers several introductory courses on its course site, including How to Start a Telemental Health Practice and Questions About Teletherapy in the Era of COVID-19 Webinar. TAMFT reminds members that once the suspension is lifted, Texas MFTs must complete all training hours to continue teletherapy."
The Governor has created a process to request temporary waiver of rules and statutes related to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. To this end, the board is in the process of determining which rules and statutes will be most effective from a waiver standpoint. The board is reviewing rules regarding submission deadlines, exam deadlines, technologically assisted practice, among others. As these waivers are granted this site will be updated with that information. The board appreciates your patience and your dedication to the citizens of Texas.
Update 03/18/2020 - On Monday, March 16th, the board submitted a waiver request to the Governor’s Office requesting temporary waiver of §801.58(d) of the board’s rules requiring 15 hours of training prior to engaging in technologically assisted counseling. We will update this page when we receive a response from the Governor’s Office.
From Governor Abbott’s office:
March 17, 2020 | Austin, Texas | Press Release
Governor Greg Abbott today waived certain regulations and directed that the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) issue an emergency rule, all relating to telemedicine care for patients with state-regulated insurance plans to help doctors across Texas continue to treat their patients while mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The suspensions and emergency rule will work together to allow telemedicine visits for patients with state-regulated plans to be paid the same as in-office visits for insurance purposes. These actions build upon waivers the Governor issued last week of portions in the Occupations Code to expand provider flexibility in providing medical services over the phone.
“As the State of Texas responds to COVID-19, we continue to work to maintain regular health care services and operations throughout the state, and telemedicine is one of the most valuable tools we have to ensure Texans continue to receive the health services they need,” said Governor Abbott. “Expanding telemedicine options will help protect the health of patients and health care professionals, and help Texas mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Doctors will be eligible for payment from insurance plans regulated by TDI for medical visits they conduct over the phone instead of in-person at the same rate they would receive for in-person visits.
Medical providers seeking guidance on the impact of the new rule can expect guidance from the Texas Medical Board to be issued in the coming days, including administrative guidance for billing to ensure that claims are processed smoothly.
Insurers seeking guidance on implementation of the emergency rule should contact TDI or visit their webpage for more information.
This coordinated efforts between the Office of the Governor, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Medical Board, and health insurance plans will increase access to health care for all Texans. Today’s action will expand telemedicine options by giving health care providers greater flexibility to perform audio-only telephone consultations with their patients.
As a reminder, Texans covered by CHIP or Medicaid will not be charged copays for test or telemedicine consults. Individuals covered by Medicare or large employer plans should check with their health plan administrator to determine their specific benefits.
From the US Dept of Health and Human Services:
March 17, 2020
OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency
Today, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced, effective immediately, that it will exercise its enforcement discretion and will waive potential penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that serve patients through everyday communications technologies during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.
This exercise of discretion applies to widely available communications apps, such as FaceTime or Skype, when used in good faith for any telehealth treatment or diagnostic purpose, regardless of whether the telehealth service is directly related to COVID-19.
In support of this action, OCR will be providing further guidance explaining how covered health care providers can use remote video communication products and offer telehealth to patients responsibly.
"We are empowering medical providers to serve patients wherever they are during this national public health emergency," said Roger Severino, OCR Director. "We are especially concerned about reaching those most at risk, including older persons and persons with disabilities," Severino added.
The Notification of Enforcement Discretion on telehealth remote communications may be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/emergency-preparedness/notification-enforcement-discretion-telehealth/index.html.
For more information on HIPAA and COVID-19, see OCR's February 2020 Bulletin: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/february-2020-hipaa-and-novel-coronavirus.pdf
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