The Indian Health Service yesterday announced that Avera Health will get $6.8 million to provide telehealth services to the nineteen Great Plains Area service units (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa) serving seventeen tribes and 130,000 American Indians.
Avera cut its teeth on this service providing telehealth services to the Lame Deer Health Center in Montana, “the first Indian Health Service facility in the country to bring board-certified specialists into the emergency room via teleconference.” They’ll face some technical challenges: according to testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last February, half of the Pine Ridge IHS facility lacks the wiring necessary for telehealth services.
Last January, Governor Dennis Daugaard said his Medicaid expansion task force helped push conversations along concerning increased cooperation between IHS and non-IHS providers to implement telehealth services. The IHS–Avera deal appears to show those conversations coming to some fruition.
Telehealth services could be a key part of helping our Indian residents get necessary care at IHS facilities and thus being able to bill IHS instead of traveling for care at non-IHS facilities and having to bill Medicaid. Moving American Indian care from partially state-funded Medicaid to 100% federally funded IHS is the magic budget trick necessary to make Medicaid expansion in South Dakota budget-neutral.
I know there are lots of other parts that have to move (including certain Republicans parts that Democrats need to move out of the Legislature this November), but the IHS–Avera deal appears to be one practical step toward ending South Dakota’s overlong resistance to Medicaid expansion.