Lawmakers on Wednesday rushed a compromise health care bill to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.
The bill, which emerged from a conference committee on Tuesday, aims to keep telehealth accessible to patients after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, steer more financial support to community hospitals and broaden the scope of practice for some nursing professionals. It also tries to limit surprise medical bills and improves COVID-19 testing and treatment coverage.
After nearly five months, the conference committee tasked with reconciling competing House and Senate versions of the bill filed its final product (S 2984) Tuesday. Baker has 10 days to act on it, a timeframe that will enable lawmakers to field amendments he may send back before the end of this two-year session.
Sen. Cindy Friedman, who chaired the conference committee with House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, said telehealth is now used by about one-third of Massachusetts residents, and that the technology has proven to be efficient and increase access to care. The bill cleared the Senate 40-0 and passed the House on a voice vote and without any discussion.
Under the bill, insurers are required to cover telehealth if they would cover the same service in-person, and must permanently reimburse for behavioral telehealth services at the same rate as in-person care.
Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association President Steve Walsh said in a statement that his group believes the delivery of behavioral health care “can be transformed by the expansion of virtual care” and said telehealth has been “a gamechanger for both patients and providers in the past year.”
The Massachusetts Associations of Health Plans voiced concern over provisions requiring insurers to match rates for telehealth-delivered chronic disease management and primary care to in-person levels for two years.
“In order for telehealth to truly deliver on its promise of increased access to high-quality care at lower costs, it is imperative that market-based negotiations set the reimbursement rate and any extension of mandated rates of payment be time-limited,” MAHP President Lora Pellegrini said.