New Jersey Governor Nixes Telemedicine Bill After Pandemic Boom

(TNS) – Gov. Phil Murphy has rejected a bill that would have reimbursed doctors and other health care providers in New Jersey the same rate for telehealth services they charge for in-person appointments, saying the cost may be too high for taxpayers and may limit opportunities for patients who prefer office visits.

On Monday, the Democratic governor vetoed the legislation, meaning he will only support it if lawmakers pass the recommended changes. Murphy called for maintaining higher reimbursement rates until 2023, after the state’s health department investigated its use and determined that patients are receiving the kind of care they need and the costs are reasonable.

Telehealth has become a widely used vehicle for people to stay connected with their doctors and mental health therapists during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, when people were ordered to stay home as much as possible. The State Department of Banking and Insurance issued a bulletin requiring insurance companies to reimburse telehealth visits at the same rate as office visits. This ordinance remains in force and expires on January 11, 2022.

The bill as drafted would permanently require “pay equity” telehealth for health services covered by an operator offering a health benefits plan in New Jersey, the NJ FamilyCare / Medicaid program, the NJ FamilyCare / Medicaid programs. state health benefits and school employee health benefits. The parity rate would not apply to audio-only services, such as phone calls without a visual component, such as FaceTime.

The law also provided $ 5 million to equip low-income patients with electronic devices to promote the use of televisites.

The bill appears to come with a potentially high price tag. The state Treasury Department estimated that the tariffs would cost the school employee health benefit program and the state health benefit program between $ 5 million and $ 50 million, according to a tax analysis released by the office. legislative affairs of the non-partisan state.

In his conditional veto message, Murphy praised the sponsors for promoting telehealth. But he suggested extending tariffs until the end of 2023 so the health ministry can have time to assess the impact on patients and costs.

“While I wholeheartedly support expanding access to telehealth and telemedicine and believe New Jersey should be a national leader in innovative health care policies, I have reservations. as to the sustainability of a measure that was meant to be a stopgap measure to preserve public health during an unprecedented emergency. ”Murphy wrote.

“To approve this bill would be a very heavy weight in favor of suppliers,” he added. “In addition, the cost to carriers – which would be felt both by those who pay premiums and by taxpayers – could be substantial. “

“I am concerned that in the long run, pay equity will encourage an excessive push for telehealth, further limiting in-person options. This could be particularly damaging for people living in underserved communities, ”Murphy continued.

Jacob Caplan, advocacy manager for Easterseals New Jersey, a nonprofit that provides housing, placement and other services to 9,000 people with developmental disabilities, said he hoped the state would conclude in his study that telehealth is both useful and cost effective.

Medicaid did not cover telehealth before the pandemic, Caplan said. A group home client who most summers typically refuses to take medication and attend therapy appointments received a tablet that helped her quickly connect with a therapist, before she cannot lose the ability to maintain her mental health and need the psychiatric care in the hospital setting mentioned.

“We were able to keep her home and safe,” Caplan said. “It’s very rewarding and it’s a great success.

Easterseals, which lends tablets and laptops to its customers to provide the telehealth service, relied on the bill money to help pay for the devices, Caplan said. “We would have appreciated state support for this. “

Kyle Zebley, vice president of public policy for the American Telemedicine Association, said its members know Murphy has reservations about the bill, so the conditional veto came as no surprise. But the fact that the governor has offered a roadmap outlining how he could support the measure is a positive sign, he said.

“It’s something we could do business with,” and a sign that Murphy is “doing something thoughtful,” Zebley said.

Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily serving people over 65, has also increased its telehealth rates during the pandemic and will keep them in place until 2023, so perhaps the Murphy administration follows suit. not, Zebley said.

The bill was sponsored by State Sens. Vin Gopal and Joann Downey, both D-Monmouth.

© 2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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