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DC Council Votes to Extend Telehealth Coverage for Postpartum Care

Washington DC is set to enact a law that would enable new mothers to access postpartum care via telehealth for at least a year after their baby is born.

Published Monday, October 12, 2020
by Eric Wicklund

Washington DC lawmakers are set to enact a new law that would greatly expand telehealth coverage for postpartum care.

The Postpartum Coverage Expansion Act Amendment of 2020, which was passed unanimously by the DC Council, extends postpartum inpatient and outpatient benefits through Medicaid from up to 60 days after childbirth to at least a year, and instructs the mayor to seek approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that all Medicaid health policies cover “innovative models of care,” include telehealth visits, remote patient monitoring and mHealth interventions.

“With this mandate, DC is leading the country in new ways to improve health outcomes,” Osazee S. Imadojemu, MPH, former Deputy Committee Director for the Committee on Health at the DC Council, said in a press release. “This step towards digital health reimbursement is the latest in a string of initiatives that show DC’s dedication to expanding the use of virtual care.”

The new law, which amends the city’s Telehealth Reimbursement Act of 2013, had support from several groups, including the March of Dimes, Preeclampsia Foundation and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

It also got a strong push from Babyscripts, a DC-based developer of mHealth and telemedicine platforms for obstetricians and their patients which launched a virtual care program capital earlier this year in the nation’s capital with Amerigroup.

“DC (has) some of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the country and there’s no excuse for it,” company co-founder and president Juan Pablo Segura, who helped draft the bill, said in the press release. “The city is starting to take some really significant measures to provide better care of our mothers, but if we’re going to actually achieve better outcomes, digital health has to play a role. Without financial incentives, most providers can’t afford to implement digital tools in their practice, so including this mandate in the proposed bill is a major step toward removing that financial barrier and accelerating adoption.”

Segura cited statistics gathered from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control which indicate 9.3 percent of pregnant mothers in DC don’t access care until their third trimester, while roughly a third don’t get enough prenatal care. In addition, new mothers typically don’t visit a doctor until 42 days after childbirth, even though more than 60 percent of maternal deaths occur before then, and roughly 60 percent of those deaths could be prevented.

Telehealth advocates have been pushing for expanded coverage and access to connected health services for both new and expectant mothers and their children at both national and state levels. Among the tools at their disposal are mHealth apps that connect moms with their care providers and other resources, remote patient monitoring and telehealth platforms that allow providers to track both mothers and babies at home, and telemental health services that provide on-demand access to care for depression and stress.

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