South Carolina's Medicaid program also already covers some mental health services. "That's a big area for growth in telehealth," says Capistrant. What's unique about South Carolina's Medicaid rules is that the telemedicine visits are covered with a licensed physician and/or nurse practitioner. It is more common for states to limit the telemedicine visit to be handled by a physician only.
South Carolina's telemedicine network for mental health is also well established. The University of South Carolina School of Medicine's partnership with the state's mental health department has helped build a network of 18 emergency departments that use telemedicine for its patients' mental health needs.
The range of covered mental health services through South Carolina's Medicaid program include office or outpatient visits, pharmacologic management, psychiatric diagnostic interview exam, and other diagnostic exams.
Capistrant says a major reason for the growth in mental telehealth services is that the visits are less intimidating for patients. "The person is able to open up a little bit more," he says. "If you have severe depression, you're not likely to put up the shades in your house, much less go to a mental health provider."
State Medicaid programs, in general, have been quicker to cover telemedicine services than commercial payers. In fact, 39 states offer some mental health coverage using telemedicine through Medicaid. By contrast, 19 states require commercial health insurers to do the same.