Make Telehealth Access Equitable and Permanent
Telemedicine Providers Deserve More Financial Assurance from Insurance Providers
By Matt Marino
While virtual health services existed prior to COVID-19, most of us were accustomed to visiting healthcare providers in person. Despite travel difficulties for the sick and disabled, patients were generally required to have in-person visits. However, as we know, COVID-19 changed everything, and we learned the importance and benefit of virtual diagnosis and treatment.
Healthcare providers never stopped administering care in emergency situations, but most of us had a choice to make: either receive telehealth or telemedicine services, or don’t receive services at all. Not surprisingly, the vast majority chose the former.
That said, it wasn’t only patients who had to adapt to a new standard of care. Many healthcare providers and practitioners also needed to reconfigure their services to ensure they could make a virtual visit resemble as close to an in-person visit as possible. That would require much time, training, and technology on their part. Would such a transition work? And would it continue even past the height of the pandemic? It definitely appears so. According to a 2022 study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), COVID-19 saw a sharp rise in the use of telehealth and telemedicine and “will remain an integral part of medical care.”
In December of 2021, Governor Phil Murphy extended S-2559 by two years and, in the process, made certain that insurance companies would reimburse telehealth and telemedicine providers at the same rate as traditional in-person health and medical providers.
However, the law expires at the end of 2023, which means that the “pay parity” will vanish and telehealth providers will receive less reimbursement for their services. The absence of pay parity will adversely impact many providers who have relied on reimbursement to be able to continue their services. Further, the loss of telehealth services will also lead to further disparity for the disabled, chronically ill, and immunocompromised.
Some may contend that telehealth and telemedicine providers have fewer overhead costs, less rigorous conditions, and lower care standards compared to traditional providers. However, as noted by HealthAffairs.org, that is not always the case. For example, telehealth providers who may not have to spend on office equipment and medical devices still need to invest in secure, stable, HIPAA-compliant technologies, many of which are costly and require recurring subscriptions. Time also is money, and while in-person providers have much more control over patient visits, it is much more likely for a virtual appointment to run over the allotted time, thus reducing the ability to take on additional appointments and the likelihood of increased work hours.
While the use of telehealth and telemedicine services has dipped slightly, the numbers show that such services still are being widely used and have been quite successful. A 2022 study of over 2,000 Mayo Clinic patients found that “the provisional diagnosis established over video telemedicine visit matched the in-person reference standard diagnosis in 86.9% of cases.” The American Medical Association continues to invest funding and time in the success of telehealth and telemedicine, stating that it “is critical to the future of healthcare.” We also must keep in mind that COVID-19 still is with us, and with the current spike, we know that not everyone can, or will be able to, visit healthcare providers in person.
New Jersey needs to recognize the valuable services provided by telehealth and telemedicine practitioners and, at the very least extend the pay parity requirement beyond its December 2023 expiration.
21st-century medical treatment is here to stay, and New Jersey has a chance to take the lead in ensuring its continued success.
- Matt Marino is running for State Senate in LD-21. Learn more about Matt at ld21nj.com.