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New Jersey Lawmakers on Track to OK Telemedicine Legislation

The Garden State's first-ever telemedicine legislation passes muster with both the Senate and Assembly's health committees, putting the state on track to establishing a telehealth policy.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- New Jersey lawmakers are moving forward with a sweeping set of telemedicine regulations that would open the doors to telehealth, ensure parity and put the Garden State on track to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact.

In one of the last states to codify telemedicine, New Jersey’s Assembly Bill 1464 would enable clinicians to establish a valid physician-patient relationship via telehealth, require state health plans and private plans that cover state employees to reimburse at the same rate as in-person care, and prevent those plans from mandating an in-person visit before telehealth use.

The bill also allows out-of-state healthcare providers to treat New Jersey residents via telehealth as long as they have a reciprocal medical license; New Jersey lawmakers enacted a rule in 2014 allowing doctors from other states to treat patients in New Jersey as long as the medical license they hold in their state aligns with New Jersey requirements.

"The benefits to telemedicine are enormous," Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), the prime sponsor of the bill, told NJ.com this week. "It will make it quicker and easier to access treatment … lower costs and, most importantly, make sure patients get the treatment they need, when they need it, to improve their long-term health."

"Telemedicine is especially vital for patients who suffer from chronic illness, seniors who are homebound and families who live in rural areas where they would have to travel very far to receive medical care," State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) said last September, after the Senate health committee approved an earlier version of its bill, S.291. "No one should have to choose between paying for groceries and traveling to see a doctor. By legalizing telemedicine, we can bring the cost of healthcare down and expand access to a variety of health services for millions of new patients."

New Jersey lawmakers have been grappling with telemedicine legislation for several years, relying up until now on the state’s Board of Medical Examiners to keep tabs on the industry. The oft-amended document was approved by the Assembly Committee on Health and Senior Services this week, and now goes back to the state Senate – which approved two earlier versions of the bill – for another vote.

The bill also directs the Board of Medical Examiners to study the Federal of State Medical Board’s Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which establishes a streamlined licensing process for providers wishing to practice across state lines. Within six months of the bill’s passage into law, the board would issue a recommendation on whether New Jersey should join the compact.

The compact, which went live earlier this year, now comprises 18 states, with five more states – Maine, Rhode Island, Michigan, Texas and Tennessee – and the District of Columbia now contemplating legislation to join.

The 53-page bill specifically excludes “audio-only telephone conversation, electronic mail, instant messaging, phone text or facsimile transmission” from the definition of “telemedicine,” preventing phone-based telehealth consults and some store-and-forward services. On the other hand, two-way audio communication is allowed when combined with store-and-forward technology.

Among those supporting the bill is the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), a national association that advocates exclusively for large employers on health, retirement and compensation public policies.

“Legislators have done a wonderful job considering the needs of patients by allowing better access to care through the use of telemedicine, while at the same time recognizing that providers must maintain a high standard of care,”  Adam Greathouse, a health policy associate for ERIC, said in a press release. “Permitting a technology alternative to two-way audio-visual communication will benefit New Jersey residents that, because of location or income level, cannot access a high-speed network connection and allow them to access the care they need when and where they need it.”

Among the more recent amendments in the bill are a mandate to create a commission to study the impact of telemedicine on the state’s healthcare ecosystem and a requirement that the state Health Department collect information on patient telemedicine use and the treatments and prescriptions recommended by doctors through telemedicine.

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