BALTIMORE — Traveling about 30 miles from Glen Burnie, Maryland, to Towson for her community language program has been a struggle for 63-year-old veteran Alison Elinoff. A stroke 15 years ago left the right side of her body paralyzed.
She skipped class several times — often for a doctor’s appointment at the Veterans Administration hospital or because she was too tired. Her performance suffered.
“I really like virtual — virtual is great,” Elinoff, who struggles to speak clearly because she has aphasia, a condition developed after a stroke. She likes being in class in person, but it takes 45 minutes to get there, which she said is a hassle.
The Snyder Center for Aphasia Life Enhancement (SCALE) went virtual at the start of the pandemic — but Elinoff will be forced to go back in person Sept. 30., part of a dispute over billing for virtual sessions versus in-person appointments between the VA and the League for People with Disabilities. Payments to the League for virtual sessions by the VA are reimbursed at a lower rate than in-person sessions.
Elinoff is not alone. Some disabled people say they’re hesitant about going back in person and want to keep virtual services that began during the pandemic. But the practicality of whether that’s possible remains uncertain, and other disabled people say they want to return to in person activities.
Changes to telehealth, such as reimbursing at full price for virtual appointments, were possible when Maryland was under a state of emergency order. But Gov. Larry Hogan ended the state of emergency Aug. 15, meaning some COVID-19 telehealth options expired on that date, Maryland Department of Health spokesman David McCallister wrote in an email Friday. Under the Preserve Telehealth Act of 2021, insurers, such as Medicaid, are required to provide coverage for telehealth services, regardless of the patients’ location, he also wrote.
But David Greenberg, president and CEO of the League, said organizations offering medical day care for disabled people will be required to serve them in person if they want to get reimbursed starting Sept. 30.
SCALE is part of the League for People with Disabilities. When asked for comment, the VA wrote in an email that it does not “provide any payments to organizations with which we have no contract or agreement. Billing requests by vendors and community partners failing to meet standards and failing to submit required documentation will be rejected.”
Gloria Padilla, who lives in the Northern Parkway area, said her son, Jeremy, is not ready to go back to in-person activities. Jeremy, 31, has autism. In the past, he volunteered at food pantries and took courses at Community College of Baltimore County. Padilla said while her son is vaccinated, she worries he may still catch the virus because he doesn’t know how to social distance.
She’d like for Jeremy to eventually give up virtual sessions to socialize in person, she said, but that should happen gradually.