Bill Will Facilitate Telemedicine and Strengthen Community Hospitals
KINGSTON – State Representative Kathy LaNatra (D-Kingston) announced that the House of Representatives recently passed 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. The act 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 further authorizes the Health Policy Commission to issue recommendations on future telehealth services for at-home use.
Under the provisions in the legislation, 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 creates a structure whereby the Secretary for Health and Human Services can provide direct payments to independent community hospitals 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 five percent of the hospital’s average total MassHealth payments received for inpatient and outpatient services in the previous fiscal year.
Bill specifics include:
• Payments to non-profits with a statewide relative price below 0.90; a public payer mix at or above 60 percent; and not corporately affiliated with a provider organization with 2 or more hospitals with total net assets greater than $600M.
• 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.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for their work on this important piece of legislation,” said Representative LaNatra. She added, “This is an important step in the effort to strengthen our healthcare system during these challenging times for us all.” Representative LaNatra’s district includes all residents of Halifax, Kingston and Plympton, as well as residents of Precincts 1, 11 and 13 in Plymouth; Precinct 1 in Middleboro; and Precinct 1 in Duxbury. To reach her, email Kathleen.LaNatra@mahouse.gov or her legislative aide, Chris Jean, Christopher.Jean@MAhouse.gov. The phone number for the office is 617-722-2430. For updates and announcements, please visit Representative LaNatra’s Facebook page, https://bit.ly/2Ura8VR
or her website, https://www.kathylanatra.com.