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EDITOR’S NOTE: We have been informed that the state Department of Social Services this morning said telehealth services will be made available to Medicaid patients.


Sometimes disease is fought with medical interventions such as surgery, injections, vaccines, or pharmaceuticals. But the coronavirus is different. If we ultimately succeed in slowing or stopping this global pandemic, we will do so with what some might consider a far less “glamorous” set of interventions.

The heroes in this fight, if they emerge, will be public health experts, operations teams in health centers, and perhaps state officials and insurers. The interventions shown to stop the spread of the virus are those that manage the flow of patients and potentially infected contacts, and those that reduce contact and spread between people.

Today, a well-executed telephone triage policy is more potent than an anti-viral medicine.

Our Department of Social Services (DSS) in Connecticut has the opportunity to be a hero in this fight or, potentially, a villain.

The patients most at risk from coronavirus are those with chronic illnesses, the elderly, and low-wage workers in services industries without the ability to work from home or take time off to self-quarantine. These are exactly the types of patients receiving healthcare coverage through the state’s Medicaid plan. They are the types of people at highest risk, and most likely to benefit from strategies that allow them to receive medical care without needing to come into a clinic, hospital, or emergency room.

Telehealth is tested, safe, and effective. It is allowed by most commercial insurance plans and widely used across the country to provide direct care to patients in their homes or offices. It is particularly essential today, as healthcare providers seek ways to contain the virus.

Nevertheless, DSS sees fit to deny telehealth visits as an option for the state’s 830,000 Medicaid recipients. In the midst of a global pandemic, this is not only wrong, it is potentially deadly for many of our most vulnerable residents.

As front-line providers, Community Health Centers care for special populations. This includes people with complex, chronic medical conditions, who often experience issues with transportation and home and food insecurity. Under the best of circumstances, these patients face numerous obstacles to obtaining medical and behavioral health services.

As the pandemic rapidly escalates, schools and colleges are closing indefinitely, quarantines are in place, and people are afraid to venture out to health care facilities. Telehealth may be the only option for many; for Medicaid recipients with anxiety and other medical and behavioral health conditions, the consequences of isolation and lack of access to their providers will have significant adverse consequences.

By denying payment for telehealth under the Medicaid program in Connecticut, we have created a two-tier system. Community Health Center, Inc. has cared for our state’s underserved for nearly 50 years, subscribing to the mission that Health Care is a Right, Not a Privilege. Apparently, only those with the privilege of commercial insurance are deemed suitable for access to innovative health care technologies.

The poor deserve the same access to care, especially in the face of a pandemic. Instead, DSS is forcing those most vulnerable to seek care in person in clinics and hospitals.

DSS Commissioner Deidre Gifford has the power to correct this injustice today. It is within her discretion to authorize payment for telehealth visits for Medicaid recipients. We urge her to act immediately in the interest of protecting the health of all in Connecticut.

Mark Masselli is the president and CEO of Community Health Center, Inc., which was founded in 1972 and now serves more than 150,000 patients at more than 200 locations throughout Connecticut.

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