STATE HOUSE – The Senate has approved legislation to permanently require health insurers to comprehensively cover telemedicine visits.

An executive order put in place March 18 required insurers to cover telemedicine visits as a means to allow Rhode Islanders to access health care without having to leave their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation (2020-S 2525), approved yesterday and sponsored by Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), would bring back the requirement permanently.

“Telemedicine is an excellent option for patients. It makes medical and behavioral health care access more convenient for providers and patients, which will encourage people to seek care when they need it. It’s effective and affordable for both patients and doctors, and it can cut down on the transmission of illnesses because it means sick people don’t have to venture out to see their doctor. It has undoubtedly been a lifesaver here in Rhode Island during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chairman Miller. “Our experience with telemedicine during the pandemic shows that it is practical and useful to Rhode Islanders. Offering it as an option permanently would improve our medical and mental health care delivery for both providers and patients.”

The legislation, which now heads to the House of Representatives, would expand access to telemedicine services by:

§  allowing patients to receive telemedicine services at any location;

§  permitting the delivery of telemedicine by audio-only telephone;

§  requiring that all telemedicine services be reimbursed at rates not lower than the same services would have been had they been delivered in-person;

§  prohibiting health insurers from imposing cost sharing and prior authorizations requirements for telemedicine services;

§  requiring that the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) apply for any federal waivers necessary to ensure that individual Medicaid beneficiaries have access to telemedicine services; and

§  authorizing the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner and EOHHS to promulgate telemedicine rules and regulations.