Gov. Phil Murphy has signed legislation (S-2559) that extends for the next two years the requirement adopted at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic that health benefits plans reimburse healthcare providers for telehealth and telemedicine services at the same rate as in-person services, with limited exceptions.
At the same time, the legislation charges the New Jersey Department of Health with conducting an in-depth study of the use of telehealth and telemedicine and its effects on patient outcomes, quality and satisfaction, and access to care in order to inform future decisions on payment structure for these services, according to a press release from Murphy’s office.
This legislation will provide critical support to patients and providers while the state continues to address the challenges posed by the pandemic, and while the Department of Health evaluates how to best leverage payment and telemedicine to improve access to affordable care and maintain the highest quality of care possible, according to the press release.
“Telehealth and telemedicine services have been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic and will stay with us long after the pandemic is over,” Murphy said. “New Jerseyans have greater access to the healthcare they need with the proliferation and expansion of these services, and with this legislation, we are ensuring this new technology can remain viable as we emerge from the pandemic while also ensuring New Jersey remains at the forefront of innovative healthcare policy that serves all New Jerseyans.”
“Throughout this pandemic, telemedicine has been a lifeline to vital healthcare services for many, especially those in underserved communities,” Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “The department will thoroughly assess the impact of pay parity in telehealth and telemedicine services and make thoughtful recommendations for the future.”
“In response to the pandemic, the state put in place measures to increase access to telehealth to ensure patients could visit a doctor or other medical provider remotely to receive care,” said Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride.
“Telehealth remains a vital access point for healthcare and this law continues to provide that access to residents while creating a process for the state to assess how the policy is working and to allow for any needed changes. This is a meaningful change that will assist residents in getting the healthcare they need, with the flexibility to visit a healthcare provider remotely from their own homes,” Caride said.
“Telehealth and telemedicine have proven invaluable during the pandemic, providing flexibility and expanding access for vital services ranging from routine care to mental health services,” said Department of Human Services Commissioner Sarah Adelman.
“We are pleased the current telehealth services will continue through the end of 2023 to benefit NJ FamilyCare beneficiaries, patients seeking mental health services and providers alike.
“We look forward to assisting with the upcoming assessment in any way possible and look forward to its recommendations as we all work toward our shared goal of ensuring continuity of care for patients and support for providers,” Adelman said.
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) was a primary sponsor of the legislation and said, “As of now, the pay parity for telehealth is to remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2023.
“However, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the many benefits of telehealth, with virtual appointments having been crucial in ensuring patients receive the proper care they need.
“Telehealth has proved to be cost-effective and it works, but it is important that we continue to guarantee that these virtual appointments are equal to those that are held in person,” Gopal said.
In addition to extending the reimbursement pay parity requirement for the next two years, S-2559 includes a number of provisions that will improve access to telehealth in both the short term and the long term, according to the press release.
Under the legislation, the extension of pay parity for the next two years will include a requirement that audio-only behavioral healthcare services are reimbursed at the same rate as if those services are provided in person.
The legislation also permanently prohibits insurance carriers from imposing geographic or technological restrictions on the provision of telehealth services, as long as the services being provided meet the same standard of care as if the services were delivered in person, according to the press release.