Senate approves health care compromise –

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BOSTON (SHNS) – A compromise health care bill that aims to keep telehealth accessible to patients after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, steer more financial support to community hospitals and expand the health care workforce unanimously cleared the Senate on Wednesday afternoon.

After nearly five months, the conference committee tasked with reconciling competing House and Senate health care bills filed its final product (S 2984) Tuesday.

The committee’s bill still needs acceptance from the House and procedural votes in both branches to move to Gov. Baker’s desk, where he will have 10 days to review and act on it. Sen. Cindy Friedman, an Arlington Democrat 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 requires insurers to cover telehealth if they would cover the same service in-person, and requires that they 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, meanwhile, 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.

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