• A bill making its way through the State Senate would require payers in the state to permanently cover telehealth services – including audio-only phone calls and care delivered to the patient’s home.

    By Eric Wicklund on

    Rhode Island lawmakers are forwarding a bill that would require payers to cover telehealth services – including audio-only phone calls – beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

    The State Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday night that would make permanent an executive order signed by Governor Gina Raimondo in March, which extended coverage for connected health services to meet the COVID-19 crisis. The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

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    The bill is an intriguing addition to the shifting landscape of post-pandemic telehealth. Most federal and state orders enacted in March and April aimed to expand telehealth coverage only during the emergency, leaving healthcare providers and telehealth advocates wondering how to continue the momentum once the crisis has passed.

    Some states and health plans have been quietly allowing those emergency actions to expire. In Tennessee, meanwhile, BlueCross BlueShield announced earlier this month that it would continue coverage of virtual visits with in-network providers indefinitely.

    The bill moving forward in Rhode Island would, if signed into law, mandate that telehealth services by in-network providers “be reimbursed at rates not lower than the same services would have been had they been delivered in-person,” and it would require those services to “be subject to the same health insurer policies as in-person services, including medical necessity determinations and appeal rights.”

    In addition, the bill calls for coverage of patients receiving virtual care “at any location,” and it expands the definition of telemedicine to include audio-only telephone conversations.

    “Telemedicine is an excellent option for patients,” State Senator Joshua Miller, who sponsored S2525A, told his colleagues before this week’s vote. “It makes medical and behavioral health care access more convenient for providers and patients, which will encourage people to seek care when they need it.”

    “Our experience with telemedicine during the pandemic shows that it is practical and useful to Rhode Islanders,” he added. “Offering it as an option permanently would improve our health care delivery and make it more user-friendly.”

    Dig Deeper

    • For One Georgia Health System, Telehealth is Definitely Here to Stay
    • Lawmakers Push to Extend Telehealth Freedoms Past the COVID-19 Emergency
    • Hospice Care Providers Ask CMS to Make Telehealth Coverage Permanent


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