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Iowa Social Workers Fighting for Continued Reimbursement for Telehealth Visits

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DES MOINES, Iowa — March is National Social Workers Month and social workers in Iowa are hoping to get some legislative support from lawmakers.

“We have social workers on the front line doing work in medical institutes, we have social workers providing therapy.  We have social workers out in the field providing help to the homeless and food pantries and hospice care,” a member of the National Association of Social Workers, Gladys Alvarez said.  “Social workers are trying really hard to make life better during this pandemic.” 

Since this time last year, social workers in the mental health field have integrated telehealth services in their practices to accommodate the needs of their clients. Alvarez said this wasn’t an easy task.  

“I think our clients really didn’t know what to do. They really still wanted to come in for the therapy sessions and yet we’re afraid that they will get sick. And so, once we got the telehealth, up and running that was much better,” Alvarez said. 

However, telehealth worked out better than most therapists could have imagined.  

Iowa’s chapter of the National Association of Social Workers recently conducted a study with its members. 

Sixty-two percent of respondents feel that their clients get as much out of telehealth interactions as they do in-person sessions and more than 90% of respondents said they are more likely to keep telehealth services post-pandemic. 

Currently, Governor Reynolds’ proclamation requires telehealth visits be reimbursed at 100 % the rate as in-office sessions. However, the governor’s proclamation expires next Monday. 

NASW is advocating for a bill that would require insurance plans regulated by the Iowa Insurance Division to continue fully covering telehealth visits.  

The bill has passed the Iowa House with a 95 to one vote but has yet to be scheduled for a subcommittee meeting in the Iowa Senate. 

“If the Senate doesn’t take it up then we’re going to have to start working with individual insurance companies,” Executive Director for the National Association of Social Workers, Iowa Chapter, Denise Rathman said. “So you have to negotiate all of the different policies. It’s not just individual insurance companies. So that even adds to the administrative burden for providers.” 

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