Call to Support New Jersey’s Telehealth Legislation

New Jersey Telehealth Bill No. A1464 and S291/652/1954 is moving steadily through the legislative process.

Now is the time for New Jersey healthcare providers, facilities, organizations and stakeholders to join in reaching out to your legislators to show support for this important bill.

Telemedicine involves the use videoconferencing or other electronic communication to connect healthcare providers and patients. Telemedicine makes care more easily available to those in need, especially patients with chronic diseases.  Telemedicine is growing quickly nationwide and is now used by more than 60 percent of all healthcare institutions, according to a federal report released in August. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Telehealth holds promise as a means of increasing access to care and improving health outcomes. Some analysts also see the potential for telehealth to reduce costs.” Forty-eight states use Medicaid to cover at least some e-health treatments, and thirty-two states require insurance companies to pay for telemedicine like in-person visits.

With rapid growth in the adoption of telemedicine, governments need to catch up. New Jersey is one of only two states that lack an official definition of telemedicine. 

Despite statewide regulatory ambiguity New Jersey has supported a handful of projects that utilize Telemedicine. One program links pediatricians with child psychiatrists, of whom there is a significant shortage.  Rutgers University also launched a pilot program  to connect patients in Newark with a community health center.

Still, the lack of an overarching state policy is a problem for patients and the healthcare industry. Without regulatory guidelines, telemedicine providers and organizations are likely to avoid the Garden State and establish programs elsewhere. As a result, New Jersey residents lose out on the opportunity for convenient care that could improve their health – and save the system money over time.

The bill has been extensively amended since it was re-introduced in January with many groups ranging from the Medical Society of New Jersey, the New Jersey Hospital Association and the Association of Health Care Plans along with many other stakeholder groups. 

Bill No. A1464 and S291/652/1954 in summary:

Ensures That an Appropriate Patient-Provider Relationship is Established

Under the bill, any health care provider who engages in telemedicine would be required to ensure that a proper provider-patient relationship is established in line with what is required for in-person care. The bill would specify the actions that must be taken to properly identify the patient, validate the provider’s identity and credentials, obtain patient consents, establish a patient history, create and educate a patient on their treatment plan, and provide access to a summary of the encounter. As long as these standards for appropriate care are met via telemedicine in-person examinations are not required.

Allows a Large Range of Providers to Practice Telemedicine

This bill would qualify health professionals, including licensed physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, clinical social workers, physician assistants, professional counselors, respiratory therapists, speech pathologists, audiologists, optometrists, pharmacists and any other health care professional acting within the scope of a valid license or certification, to take part in the practice of telehealth and telemedicine.

Defines Telemedicine and Telehealth

The bill defines “telemedicine” to mean the delivery of a health care service using electronic communications, information technology, or other electronic or technological means to bridge the gap between a health care provider who is located at a distant site and a patient who is located at an originating site, either with or without the assistance of an intervening health care provider. “Telemedicine” would not include the use, in isolation, of audio-only telephone conversation, electronic mail, instant messaging, phone text, or facsimile transmission. Similarly, the bill lays out a definition of “telehealth.”

Specifies All Providers Must Be Properly Licensed

Under the bill, any health care provider who uses telemedicine must be licensed, certified, or registered to provide such services in the State of New Jersey and will remain subject to regulation by the appropriate New Jersey State licensing board or professional regulatory entity. All providers must also comply with existing requirements regarding the maintenance of liability insurance.

Mandates that New Jersey Payers Reimburse for Telemedicine;

The legislation underscores that New Jersey’s Medicaid and NJ Family Care programs, managed care plans and other private plans must pay for telemedicine treatments at the same rate as traditional care. The State Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare programs may not charge any deductible or copayment in an amount that exceeds what is paid for an in-person consultation.

The Assembly bill is sponsored by the following:

  • Herb Conaway Jr. (D)
  • Craig Coughlin (D)
  • Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D)
  • Joe Lagana (D)
  • Pam Lampitt (D)
  • Raj Mukherji (D)

The Senate bill is sponsored by the following:

  • Joseph Vitale (D)
  • Jim Whelan (D)
  • Diane Allen (R)
  • Shirley Turner (D)

I applaud these New Jersey legislators for their support of these important bills and call on New Jersey healthcare providers, facilities, organizations and stakeholders to join in reaching out to your state legislators to show our support.  

You can find the contact information for your New Jersey legislators here. Please take the time to call your legislators office or send them a letter or email using the template here.

Together, we can help telehealth bring better healthcare to New Jersey.

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