New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced legislation this week that would expand access to telehealth throughout the state.
The governor’s proposal includes broad regulatory and statutory changes to allow for greater flexibility in where and how patient use telehealth, new requirements for insurers regarding telehealth coverage, technology expansions that would further enable virtual care, and professional development and education aimed at facilitating the use of telemedicine among patients and providers.
“COVID-19 has changed not only the way we live, but the way healthcare providers support their patients, especially in regard to mental health,” said Cuomo in a statement.
“New Yorkers have adapted throughout 2020, but it is time to push telehealth to the next level in New York State and fully integrate it into our existing healthcare system. These proposals will better allocate our healthcare and technological resources for the 21st century,” Cuomo continued.
Advocates cheered the legislation, saying it is vital for states to take action to safeguard telehealth access moving forward.
“The ATA applauds Governor Cuomo for recognizing the unique role that telehealth can play in bringing healthcare into the 21st century and in expanding access to care, at a lower cost, to underserved communities,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, saying the group is “hopeful that the New York state legislature will work with Governor Cuomo to pass this needed telehealth modernization legislation.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would make permanent many flexibilities that are currently in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency. From a regulatory and policy perspective, the reforms would:
- Require Medicaid telehealth reimbursement for services regardless of where the patient or provider is located in a non-facility setting.
- Develop interstate licensing reciprocity for states in the Northeast region for specialties with historical access shortage.
- Continue COVID-19 flexibilities for mental health and substance use disorder services.
Cuomo’s proposed changes would also require commercial insurers to offer a telehealth program to members and to provide Medicaid coverage (subject to federal approval) to cover services furnished telephonically when medically appropriate. They would also ensure telehealth is reimbursed at rates that “incentivize use” and require provider disclosure about whether they provide virtual services.
“Any telehealth platforms offered as part of a mandatory telehealth program will be required to participate in the Statewide Health Information Network for New York or otherwise demonstrate interoperability with other providers in the insurer’s provider network,” noted a press release on the governor’s website.
In addition, Cuomo would require insurers to offer members an e-triage or virtual emergency department platform, encourage insurers to reimburse providers directly for engaging in e-consults, and streamline the Statewide Health Information Network for New York patient consent process to increase interoperability.
Finally, the governor notes that telehealth uptake use has been unequal across the general population. His office stressed the importance of outreach and education to ensure the successful adoption of telehealth by patients and providers.
THE LARGER TREND
In the absence of U.S. congressional action, states are moving forward to make telehealth flexibilities permanent.
Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a wide-ranging bill that includes expanding access to telehealth after the COVID-19 public health emergency abates.
“This legislation will do so much good, but particularly it will expand mental healthcare access for rural residents, people of color, working families and young people,” said Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, at the time of the signing.
ON THE RECORD
“We can unlock the potential of telehealth going forward by changing the ways in which New Yorkers access healthcare. This starts with comprehensive policy changes that give providers and patient’s greater flexibility to use telehealth as they deem appropriate,” said Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University and co-chair of the Reimagine New York Commission Telehealth Working Group, in a statement.
“We can and must ensure that those New Yorkers who are most in need have greater access to care through new investments in telehealth infrastructure, and through the creative integration of telehealth technologies with the kinds of human support that cannot be replaced,” Pollack added.