New Hampshire lawmakers held a hearing this week on a bill that would roll back provisions safeguarding telehealth coverage in the state.
The bill, sponsored by three Republican state legislators, targets payment parity for telehealth services and would eliminate coverage for audio-only services.
“This bill discriminates against people who are not able to access the internet or who do not have the equipment or knowledge to access video/audio care with their doctors, clinicians or therapists,” read a letter to the editor of the Valley News signed this past week by the CEO, medical director and director of development and community relations at West Central Behavioral Health.
WHY IT MATTERS
HB 602 is co-sponsored by Reps. Jess Edwards, R-Rockingham; John Hunt, R-Cheshire; and Jason Osborne, R-Rockingham.
It would make changes to the reimbursement limits for telemedicine, striking the wording of existing statutes requiring Medicaid and private insurers to provide coverage on the same basis as in-person services and revising the law to cap the combined amount of reimbursement to distant sites and originating sites at the total amount allowed for health services in person.
It would also explicitly exclude audio-only telephone services from the definition of telemedicine, including with regard to insurance coverage.
Somewhat confusingly, Edwards was among the co-sponsors of the 2020 law that extended payment parity for telehealth coverage in the first place.
Telehealth advocates have repeatedly stressed the importance of audio-only coverage, especially for patients who do not have access to high-quality broadband.
“Who are the people among us who do not have internet access or the technology or technical knowledge to do video appointments? This bill is clearly biased against our most elderly, most poor, most limited and most rural citizens,” read the Valley News letter.
THE LARGER TREND
New Hampshire joins several other states in enacting telehealth legislation in the absence of federal policy. But while the Granite State is moving to restrict coverage, most others – including its next-door neighbor – are pushing to expand access.
This past month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, himself a former insurance executive, signed a law safeguarding telehealth coverage in that state. It will implement permanent rate parity for virtual behavioral health services, among its other provisions.
Also in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York proposed sweeping telehealth reforms that would protect access to virtual care services. And the Indiana state senate unanimously passed a bill this week that would safeguard access to care after the pandemic.
ON THE RECORD
“During this pandemic and beyond, we encourage all New Hampshire legislators to vote against HB 602 so that our health care professionals can meet the needs remotely of all patients, not just those who can access the internet,” read the Valley News letter to the editor.