LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Video conferencing with a therapist or psychiatrist over your phone or computer became more common during the pandemic. Thanks to new legislation, many people will have the ability to continue using telemedicine now that the state of emergency has expired.
"Mental health is an important part of our health in general," State Rep. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood, said. "We need to recognize that it's as important as taking care of your blood pressure or diabetes. It's a critical part of how we care for our patients."
In addition to serving as a state representative for portions of Sebastian and Crawford counties, Johnson works as an emergency room physician.
Certainly, in the emergency room where I work day-to-day, you see firsthand the mental health crisis that we're dealing with and the challenges trying to connect patients with providers," he said.
With that in mind, Johnson sponsored a bill last legislative session requiring the Department of Human Services and Medicaid to continue paying for mental health telehealth services as they did during the state of emergency. It passed into law.
"It was important not only for our patients, but also our providers," Johnson said. "This ended up being a really great way to extend our providers to a wide variety of patients."
Prior to this year, Medicaid required a primary care provider referral to get mental health services after your first three visits. Johnson passed a bill extending that out, so patients can have 10 visits before needing a referral. He hopes these measures are the start of getting all Arkansans the help they need.
"[There are] a lot of things left to do to try to support mental health in our community and do what we can to recruit and retain providers to the area," Johnson said.
If you have private insurance, you can check with your provider to see if or how they cover telehealth services for mental health.