The expiration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, likely to occur in January, will create significant complexity for schools that provide telehealth services to students.

Since 2020, the COVID-19 emergency — a federal declaration issued by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services — has driven a surge in telehealth utilization among older Americans, enabled by regulatory waivers and flexibilities from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Service.

The same is true for the over 33 million children and adolescents served by Medicaid, the state-run government program that helps pay health care costs for people with limited income. While states have broad flexibility to determine whether to cover telehealth services under Medicaid, 49 states now have policies that allow for the reimbursement of at least one type of service when provided via telehealth in schools; 24 states had similar policies prior to the pandemic. So while school-based telehealth is not new, catalytic advances in school-based telehealth implementation were based on the widely shared goals of protecting student health and well-being, minimizing visits to local emergency rooms — already stretched thin because of the pandemic and its financial impacts — and providing better care to children and adolescents to optimize in-person learning.

This expansion was, and remains, an important equity opportunity for students, families and schools. First, telehealth holds the promise of dramatically expanded access to, and availability of, different types of physical and mental health care, regardless of where a student lives. Second, telehealth can potentially reduce out-of-pocket costs for patients due to inefficiencies in care, particularly in rural geographies. Third, given the widespread concerns around school staffing, telehealth represents an opportunity to maximize the impact of a capacity-limited workforce. Maybe most critically, telehealth decreases burdens on families and students, for example, by reducing transportation challenges that can hinder access to care, resulting in more time spent in class.

Given the potential benefits of telehealth and evidence that for some conditions, such school-based care can improve the quality and effectiveness of care, it would seem nonsensical to dramatically scale back this service that matured during the pandemic.

Read the full article about school telehealth by Mario Ramirez and Andrew Buher at The 74.