Developing telehealth means improving mental health care – Daily Montanan

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Our elected officials, including the Public Service Commission, state legislators, the Gianforte administration, and our congressional delegation must do more to increase access to health care and mental health treatment in Montana. Although some steps have been taken, we still have a long way to go, in particular to address the mental health problems Montanese live as the state emerges from the COVID pandemic.

From Wibaux to Saltese, to the furthest points north and south of I-90, people in rural Montana need better access to better health care, including health treatment mental. There are 60 million Americans mentally ill, and nearly half of them receive no treatment despite mental health parity laws. Tight insurance networks make it very difficult for patients to find a mental health care provider who is part of the network, forcing them to choose between seeking treatment and paying costs they cannot afford.

The first thing we can do is adopt policies that mandate telehealth and mental health coverage through Medicaid, Health Insurance, and private insurers. Telehealth is often less expensive than in-person medical care, eliminates travel costs for patients, and is a safer option for people with reduced mobility or who live in areas with rough winter roads. For many Americans, there are far fewer options for mental health care providers than for other medical care providers. The closure of rural hospitals and the severe shortage of mental health care providers in rural areas make telehealth and mental coverage imperative for Montanans.

The second thing we can do to increase access to health and mental health care is to expand reliable internet services via broadband. The state recently released an interactive video map showing current broadband access levels across Montana. Nearly 25% of the populated area of ​​the state is underserved, mostly in rural areas. Living in a rural community shouldn’t mean your health care options are limited. In a recent poll, 82% of Montana residents surveyed said improving broadband was important to increasing telemedicine.

COVID has clarified many things, including that telehealth is an effective and viable option for those in need of health care and access to mental health treatment. During the pandemic, in the United States, there was a 63% increase in telehealth care. If it worked then, it will continue to work now, but we need better systems in place to ensure Montanans can easily and affordably access telehealth and mental health services.

Hamm is the Managing Director of Treasure State Internet & Telegraph.

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