The Massachusetts Telemedicine Coalition (tMED), the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) and the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association (MHA) applaud the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC) for its comprehensive report on telehealth utilization in the Commonwealth and strong policy recommendations to support continued access to telehealth services for patients.
As underscored by the HPC’s report, telehealth has been key to maintaining access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic and providing equitable access for marginalized patients by helping them overcome the “digital divide.” Importantly, the HPC’s data demonstrate that telehealth is not additive to overall cost in the health care system, but substitutive, and a proven modality that can reduce no-show rates and improve treatment adherence for many of the state’s most vulnerable patients.
Virtual care has enabled greater patient engagement with their health care teams, which will help improve patient outcomes. However, stable reimbursement policies across payors and predictability for providers and patients founded on payment parity is essential to supporting sustained access to care via telehealth.
Two major Massachusetts insurance carriers have announced planned transitions to regressive, pre-pandemic reimbursement policies, which will undermine the sustainability of telehealth services. These policies are not consistent with the HPC’s recommendation for continued payment parity for primary care and chronic disease management services delivered via telehealth, including audio-only visits, which have proven to be critical for those communities that lack access to affordable broadband and digital literacy.
“We applaud the HPC’s recommendations, which are critical in allowing our patients, especially those who encounter barriers to care, to continue to have another viable and effective option to access their health care team,” MMS president Dr. Ted Calianos said. “The recommendations align with our legislative goal to ensure that health care providers are reimbursed equitably for meeting the same high-quality standard of care, no matter the modality, and recognizes the importance of equitable reimbursement as foundational to the sustainability of providers’ ability to offer care via telehealth to their patients and to continue to invest in technology and innovate in the digital health space.”
The MMS and MHA strongly support additional HPC recommendations that seek to reduce or eliminate administrative complexities associated with providing care via telehealth and promoting standardization across all payors, support the adoption of value-based care models, support transparency for consumers, and call for policies that ensure continuity of care and coverage for patients who access telehealth services across state lines.
The recommendations are consistent with the tMED Coalition’s priority legislation, HD.3511/SD.1984, An Act Relative to Telehealth and Digital Equity for Patients, filed by Rep. Marjorie Decker and Sen. Adam Gomez. The HPC recommendations appropriately focus on health equity and increased support for underserved patient populations by backing policies and investments that reduce the gap in high-speed internet access and digital literacy.
“Telehealth has grown by leaps and bounds in just a few years, but it will not succeed in the long-run without the supports it needs to thrive,” said Adam Delmolino, MHA’s Director of Virtual Care and Clinical Affairs. “Our elected leaders have been instrumental in supporting the evolution of virtual care here in Massachusetts. We hope that many of the report recommendations, along with legislation, will help provide a roadmap for the work that lies ahead. The coalition is especially focused on enhancing digital literacy for disenfranchised communities, making patient navigators a fully-resourced part of our healthcare system, and making permanent many of the pilot programs that have expanded telemedicine’s reach.”
The MMS and the MHA look forward to working with the HPC, the Healey-Driscoll administration, legislators, payors, patients, and other stakeholders to continue to integrate and optimize telehealth so that all patients of the Commonwealth can enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.