House Acts to Support Healthcare System during Pandemic

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Bill Will Facilitate Telemedicine and Strengthen Community Hospitals

(BOSTON) – State Representative Paul J. Donato (D-Medford, Malden) joined Speaker DeLeo and their 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 also 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 a greater 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, in recognition of the barriers in access many MassHealth enrollees may face.

The bill also creates a structure whereby the Secretary for Health and Human Services can provide direct payments to independent community hospitals – often the best source for healthcare in many Gateway cities as well as their economic engine (vital during the COVID-19 created financial downturn.) Under the bill HHS will disburse Medicaid 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.
“Once again, my colleagues and I are working diligently to address the effects of COVID-19,” said Representative Paul J. Donato. “This legislation effectively addresses present health care needs and commits to the future of telemedicine in the Commonwealth.”
“An unanticipated effect of COVID-19 is getting a chance to see how effective telemedicine can be in the context of behavioral health, chronic disease treatment and internal medicine. We need to let things that work, keep working,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I thank Leader Mariano and Vice Chair Cullinane for this work on an important bill at a crucial time.”

“One lasting legacy of this pandemic will be the widespread recognition of the potential for telehealth to transform the way health care services are delivered,” said Majority Leader Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy). “This legislation applies lessons learned from the pandemic to make lasting changes to our health care system, including a permanent commitment to ensuring behavioral health services are covered by telehealth at the same rate as in-person care.”

“This legislation will help patients across the Commonwealth get better access to care in times when they need it most,” said Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means (D-Boston). “By ensuring this access to Telehealth, patients can focus on their health needs, rather than worrying over whether insurance would cover this access or the potential effects of COVID-19 if they had to visit a doctor in person.”

The bill also includes extending, 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 two years of supervised practice; 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; and extends COVID-19 insurance coverage for outpatient testing for asymptomatic individuals who work in high-risk industries, like health care, retail, restaurant, and hospitality.

The bill is now in conference committee.

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