In the 21st century, just about anything that can be done electronically is being done electronically. Even the healthcare industry is now taking advantage of the convenience offered by internet communications and video conferencing. No need to leave your house to see a doctor anymore – just log onto the internet and schedule a video visit for routine health concerns. Parents of children with special needs in Missouri will soon be reaping the benefits of all this new technology thanks to a recent law that was passed. Thanks to the new law, Missouri schools are planning to embrace videoconferencing technology as a way to deliver health services to students, a move that will be of particular benefit to students with special needs.
What Does the Law Do?
Signed by Gov. Jay Nixon in June, the law lays out a series of provisions governing telehealth practices and stipulates that the state’s Medicaid program, MO HealthNet, start supporting schools looking to offer services like videoconferencing for physician consultations. While the increased availability of physician consultations will certainly help all Missouri students, it is expected to dramatically increase the convenience and effectiveness of services for students with special needs.
Why Is the Law Important for Students with Special Needs?
Federal law requires districts to provide students who need them with services such as speech therapy, physical therapy and mental health services. The recently passed law specifically makes physicians specializing in those areas eligible to use telehealth techniques as part of the state’s Medicaid program. Moreover, the law also designates a child’s home, a school or a “child assessment center” as “originating sites” where patients are allowed to receive telehealth services. In short, the law will provide increased access to specialists and provide a wide range of locations where the teleconferencing sessions can take place.
“There is a shortage of speech language pathologists across the nation, and Missouri is no exception to that rule,” said Phyllis Wolfram, executive director of special programs for the Springfield, Missouri Public School District and president-elect for the Council of Administrators of Special Education. “When we have a difficult time finding speech language therapists, we will be able to use this service as well as continue to bill Medicaid. We are a district that bills Medicaid and it is very beneficial to us, so to be able to offer that service when we need it will be very helpful.” While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that Missouri has slightly more speech therapy professionals than the national average, the majority of them practice in densely populated urban areas such as Kansas City and St. Louis, leaving students in the state’s rural areas without access to the services they need. “They’re few and far between in the first place in some remote areas. School districts can post and post and post for positions, but if there’s no one applying and you can’t go get them, it’s just not there” said Wolfram. Moreover, when a school district does finally find someone interested in the position, it can be extremely costly for the district to lure them to the area.
Overall, Wolfram believes that the new technology will let schools take a more comprehensive approach to treating their special needs students and start embracing the state’s Medicaid program. With the new telecommuting abilities, a student could receive occupational, physical, and speech therapy via teleconferencing as well as consult with a special education teacher on site. Of course, as with most new concepts, everyone involved may be a bit hesitant to embrace the concept until they see how well it can work for some students. “It’s still new, and I think that the best is yet to come,” Wolfram said. “I think as this begins to unfold for some of the school districts in our state that we will see some really nice services that are provided that maybe have been hard to come by in the past.”
The new law is now officially in effect, meaning Missouri schools may begin implementing the provisions of the law in the near future. Hopefully, students with special needs will reap the benefits of the law as the new teleconferencing options are integrated into the schools.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding children with special needs, contact the experienced Missouri special needs planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.