Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Legislature approves extending telehealth service flexibilities for a year post COVID-19 pandemic

SACRAMENTO — Assembly Bill 32, by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) and Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Salinas), introduced at the beginning of the legislative session, sought to expand health care accessibility via telehealth, by making the telehealth flexibilities put in place during the pandemic permanent.

It received bipartisan support in both the Assembly Health Committee, 13-0, and Assembly floor, 78-0.

Additionally, both the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees supported AB 32 because telehealth services have transformed the health care delivery system, especially during a global pandemic.

Most recently, AB 32 was delayed in the Senate Health Committee because the Department of Health Care Services, the co-sponsors, and the authors made a budget agreement, which will allow current flexibilities to remain for one more year for Medi-Cal patients.

AB/SB 133, the health budget bills, are a step in the right direction and will allow our most vulnerable communities to continue to access health care services via the modality that works best for them.

“I commend both Gov. Gavin Newsom, my colleagues in the Assembly, and the Senate Budget Committee for extending telehealth services for one more year,” said Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry. “However, there is still a lot of work to be done because this is not a permanent solution. It is vital that we lock in flexibilities across modalities that were critical to people getting health services during the pandemic, collect data to ensure quality and good health outcomes, expand these services to commercial providers, and assure that providers get reimbursed appropriately. I look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and our telehealth coalition this upcoming legislative session on this important issue. Health care must not be rationed, because a healthy population is priceless, but also costs less.”

While the pandemic has led to disruptions in patient access to care, telehealth, specifically telephonic care, has allowed providers to bring care to their patients.

Patients, regardless of who they are, what insurance they have, what language they speak, or the barriers they may face, such as a lack of local health professionals, mobility, childcare, or the ability to take time off from work, have been able to receive lifesaving services.

Telehealth has transformed healthcare during the nation’s worst health crisis in a century, allowing patients to maintain timely access to care while also mitigating COVID-19 exposure.

The California Medical Association said it was pleased to see the inclusion of the telehealth flexibilities that were granted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic included in the legislative budget package and is grateful to see Gov. Newsom signed the proposal into law.

“Telehealth flexibilities have become an essential part of health care in the last year because they have enabled physicians to provide and expand care to Californians across the state throughout the pandemic, and they ensure that we can continue to meet this moment and lay the groundwork for a more equitable and accessible health care landscape,” said Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D., California Medical Association president.

“Telehealth has become such an important tool for physicians’ practices during this time because it allows them to provide safe and effective care to their patients. Additionally, telehealth bridges access barriers by utilizing technology to better harness physician time and expertise, and by connecting patients to their care providers more quickly, efficiently and conveniently,” said Bretan.

Bretan added that protecting the telehealth expansions, especially those that relate to telephonic visits which play a crucial role in bridging access barriers, is essential to meeting our current health care demands and expanding health care access to those who need it most.

“Signing this critical piece of legislation marks a meaningful step towards ensuring that all Californians — regardless of their geography, income or background — can receive access to quality care in the future,” he said.

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