By Wardell Sanders
A bill to amend state laws on telehealth / telemedicine (“telehealth” for short) (S-2559) is currently on the governor’s desk awaiting action. The bill has been described by some supporters as necessary for the continued existence of telehealth in New Jersey. But make no mistake, COVID-19 has proven to everyone, including health insurance providers, consumers and healthcare providers, that telehealth works. Whether the governor signs, veto, or conditionally veto the bill, telehealth is here to stay. New Jersey health insurance providers have embraced telehealth and recognize that it expands access, increases convenience for consumers and providers, and can improve health care.
The New Jersey Telehealth Act, 2017 created a strong foundation for telehealth in the state. Initially, reluctance from consumers, providers and payers and some practical hurdles contributed to its slow growth and limited use. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that by adding urgency to the adoption of telemedicine so that patients could always see their doctors when they were sick and needed care. Faced with unprecedented challenges for the US healthcare system, telemedicine has created an effective way to maintain social distancing and expand access to care. Necessity has become the mother not of invention in this case, but of adoption.
To realize the promise of telehealth in the future, New Jersey needs solutions that expand – not limit – the use of telehealth where such care is clinically appropriate. Current New Jersey law needs to be changed, but it needs to be done to create an environment that encourages efficiency and quality of care. For example, we applaud the bill’s removal of the patient or provider location regulation. The healthcare community has found that this piece of the existing law has created unnecessary barriers to patient access to care and provider uptake and investment in telehealth. As long as there is access to a device that allows a physician to adequately treat the patient by audio / visual means, the location of the patient or provider should not impede access.
Despite this, some elements of the proposed modification of existing legislation could have negative effects on costs and quality, affecting consumers. For example, imposing a payment policy serves to thwart efficiency gains. As the Brookings Institute observed, “The main problem with parity-of-payment laws is that they conflict with the cost-effectiveness of telehealth. While telehealth can help reduce the costs of using the health system and reducing doctor visits, it is contradictory to demand that a service provided by telehealth be paid at the same rate as if it were provided in an office. medical.
Recent reports from Washington also offer a caveat about telehealth. Recently, the US Department of Justice announced $ 1.1 billion in allegedly false and fraudulent claims submitted by more than 43 defendants in 11 judicial districts in connection with projects involving telemedicine. And the Inspector General’s Office of Health and Human Services released two reports: one on opportunities to increase telehealth assessment and surveillance for behavioral health, and another on an investigation of states reporting on behavioral health. multiple challenges using telehealth.
So, by all means, let’s clean up some of the things that need to be addressed in the law to help advance the promise of telehealth in a way that helps patients by providing them with access to clinically appropriate care and ensuring effective use. taxpayers and paying residents.
We also need to collect more data once we get past the current COVID crisis and work collectively to determine how telehealth fits into the overall healthcare landscape. The best way to do this is for the governor to conditional veto the bill on his desk and quickly convene a multi-stakeholder group, as envisioned in the 2017 law, to make evidence-based recommendations for improvement. telehealth policy.
Wardell Sanders is the chairman of the New Jersey Health Plans Association.
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