Legislation that would extend for two years the requirement for health benefits plans to reimburse health care providers for telehealth and telemedicine services at the same rate as in-person services, with limited exceptions, was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday.
At the same time, the legislation charges the Department of Health with conducting an in-depth study of the utilization 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.
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.
The change in policy was made at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic — and has received a positive response since.
“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 health care they need with the proliferation and expansion of these services, and, with this legislation, we are ensuring that this new technology can remain viable as we emerge from the pandemic, while also ensuring that New Jersey remains at the forefront of innovative health care policy that serves all New Jerseyans.”
Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli agreed.
“Throughout this pandemic, telemedicine has been a lifeline to vital health care services for many — especially those in underserved communities,” she said. “The department will thoroughly assess the impact of pay parity in telehealth and telemedicine services and make thoughtful recommendations for the future.”
In addition to extending the reimbursement pay parity requirement for the next two years, S2559 includes a number of provisions that will improve access to telehealth in both the short and the long term. Under the legislation, the extension of pay parity for the next two years will include a requirement that audio-only behavioral health care 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.
Primary sponsors of S2559 include Sens. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) and Nia Gill (D-Montclair), and Assemblymembers Joann Downey (D-Ocean Twp.), Herb Conaway (D-Delran), Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton Square), Eric Houghtaling (D-Ocean Twp.) and Robert Karabinchak (D-Edison).
“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,” Gopal said. “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.”