Original Source: Center for Connected Health Policy
On Thursday, October 31, the California Telehealth Policy Coalition hosted a legislative briefing at the California State Capitol to educate legislative staff and other key audiences on how telehealth can be used to improve patient experience, health outcomes, and health equity. The briefing was attended by over 80 individuals, including legislative staff, attorneys, as well as public interest and advocacy organizations. After two brief videos depicting testimonies from patients who have utilized and expressed high satisfaction with the care they received via telehealth, CCHP executive director, Mei Kwong, gave a brief presentation on the telehealth policy landscape both nationally, and in California.
Ms. Kwong described the recent changes in Medi-Cal allowing the provider to decide the best modality (live video or store-and-forward) to deliver any service, as long as it meets the same standard of care as would be expected in-person and is a covered benefit under Medi-Cal. The recent passage of the telehealth private payer parity law (AB 744) was also discussed, which requires plans beginning in 2021 to cover telehealth at the same rate as in-person services and forbids insurers from limiting coverage to a select third-party corporate telehealth partner. Some of the areas where improvements are still possible, according to Ms. Kwong, are adding reimbursement for remote patient monitoring in Medi-Cal and eliminating the carve out for Medi-Cal Managed Care plans from AB 744’s requirement of payment parity.
Following Ms. Kwong’s presentation, there was a robust discussion among a diverse group of panelists. Dr. Michael Quion, a physician from Chapa De Indian Health in Grass Valley, described patients’ acceptance and satisfaction of telehealth in his clinic, mainly due to the reduction of long distance travel to access their needed healthcare services. Ms. Julie Bates, who represents AARP California, spoke of the hardship older adults and their caregivers face in accessing healthcare, especially in medically underserved areas and how telehealth provides a viable solution. She expressed AARP’s priority to promote telehealth federally and at the state level to increase the utilization for their constituents. Dr. Anthony Magit of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, described how telehealth has assisted in creating a synergistic relationship with nearby community clinics, and has seen firsthand a telehealth consultation help avoid unnecessary hospital transfers, and allow patients to stay in their community to receive their needed care. Finally, Dr. Greg Buchert, representing Blue Shield of California, spoke of the ability of telehealth to address workforce shortages, especially the potential in electronic consultations (eConsults), which provide primary care providers with specialty advice on complex patients and can help manage patients in the primary care setting. He also pointed to the success of telehealth applications to address patient needs in emergency situations, such as the recent California wildfires.
While panelists acknowledged the landmark year it has been in California for telehealth policy, they also recognized the work that is still needed to drive telehealth utilization in California to new heights. Panelists discussed the need for increased high speed broadband access in rural areas of the state, and expressed hope that the Federal Communications Commission proposed Connected Care Pilot might facilitate this. The need to raise awareness among patients through educational efforts on the availability of telehealth as well as the need to educate and foster telehealth provider champions was also a primary point. The restrictions on the use of telehealth in the Medicare program were also mentioned as barriers that need to be addressed, although there was an understanding that this would need to be pursued at the federal level.