Bill Will Facilitate Telemedicine and Strengthen Community Hospitals

(BOSTON) – State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull) joined her colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in passing a bill that will enable patients to access healthcare services via telemedicine and provide vital funding to community hospitals in the midst of COVID-19.

An Act to promote resilience in our health care system (H.4916) mandates telehealth coverage for primary care services, behavioral health, and chronic disease management – all areas that have experienced success with remote care in recent months – for at-home patients. It enables telehealth in the provider-to-provider context for all healthcare services, including when delivered to a patient located in a healthcare facility. The bill also authorizes the Health Policy Commission to issue recommendations on future telehealth services for at-home use. Under the bill, insurers must cover services delivered by a wide range of technologies, including audio-only telephone calls, but may also pay an increased rate for the use of audio-video technology. MassHealth would be able to reimburse audio-only telephone calls at the same higher rate as audio-video technology, responsive to barriers to access that MassHealth enrollees may face.

The bill also creates a structure whereby the Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS) can provide direct payments to independent community hospitals – a tremendous local resource for healthcare and important employer and economic engine.  Under the bill HHS will disburse payments to independent community hospitals in payments equal to 5 percent of the hospital’s average total MassHealth payments received for inpatient and outpatient services in the previous fiscal year.

“This timely bill ensures that we support local and regional healthcare systems to respond to the pandemic today, and improve access to affordable, high quality healthcare for everyone moving forward in the future,” said State Representative Joan Meschino. “Telehealth services are vital to providers, like Manet Community Health Center, to reach all patients in our community and provide equitable healthcare services.”

The bill also:

  • Requires payers to reimburse telehealth services at the same rate as in-person services until July 31, 2021;
  • Establishes a credentialing by proxy process for physicians through the Board of Registration in Medicine;
  • Extends, until July 31, 2021, Governor Baker’s emergency order which mandates insurance coverage for COVID-19 emergency and inpatient services, including all professional, diagnostic, and laboratory services;
  • Authorizes independent prescriptive practice for nurse practitioners and psychiatric nurse mental health clinical specialists after completing 2 years of supervised practice;
  • Extends emergency orders granting temporary licenses to certain health care providers during the pandemic, by one year, to expire on December 31, 2021;
  • Requires the Assistant Secretary of MassHealth to testify at the HPC’s annual Health Care Cost Growth Hearing;
  • Extends COVID-19 insurance coverage for outpatient testing for asymptomatic individuals who work in high-risk industries, like health care, retail, restaurant, and hospitality;
  • Eliminates the requirement that MassHealth enrollees get a referral from a primary care provider before accessing care at an urgent care facility, eliminating a barrier to affordable care;
  • Requires MassHealth to pay to reserve a member’s bed in a nursing home for up to 20 days if the resident is being treated in a hospital for COVID-19.

The bill is now in conference committee.