The years-long telemedicine battle in the populous state of New Jersey–the ever-contradictory home of history, high taxes, ‘the Boss’, Newark Airport, and some of the world’s finest beaches and resorts–has finally concluded with a strong win. Last Thursday, the NJ Legislature unanimously passed two bills that set telemedicine practice and payment standards. The General Assembly passed A.1464 and then hours later, the State Senate passed its bill (S.291). Governor Chris Christie had already indicated his support and his signature is expected once both bills are formally reconciled. The new regulations will be effective immediately.
The bill defines telemedicine as doctor-patient two-way videoconferencing and store-and-forward technology, omitting audio-only, email, texting, and fax as usual on the consults. Telehealth is defined as communications technologies including remote patient monitoring and telephone to support clinical health care, provider consultations, and health-related education. No pre-qualifying in-person visits are required to establish a “proper provider-patient relationship” except for conditions requiring treatment with Schedule II controlled dangerous substances. Another exception is for unpaid consults in the wake of an emergency or disaster–something that NJ is experienced with, having been hit hard in the past by hurricanes.
Healthcare providers (inclusive of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals) must be licensed in the state and telemedicine/telehealth organizations must register with and submit reports to the Department of Health. A seven-member Telemedicine and Telehealth Review Commission will be set up within six months and will review DOH reports that contain de-identified data on usage, diagnostic code, and payment. These public reports could provide valuable insights on the efficacy of telemedicine and telehealth treatment.
The bill includes full parity of telemedicine payment with in-person visits for both public (Medicaid, state benefit plans) and private insurance plans. There is also parity of a different type affecting mental health providers, with mental health screeners, screening services, and screening psychiatrists not being required to obtain a prior authorization or a waiver prior to engaging in telemedicine and telehealth.
Supporters of this legislation included AARP in support of patients at home and family caregivers as well as Teladoc with reduction of ER admissions for low-acuity conditions. There was expressed concern that telemedicine would undercut medical practices, especially smaller ones. One feature that seems to have been lost in revision, perhaps deliberately, was an intent to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, considered by some to be key to expanding telemedicine in the state through cross-border licensure.
NJ health systems have been using telemedicine for years, mainly for site-to-site consults but often for patients already in their system. The old ‘perfect together’ tourism slogan now applies to telemedicine, telehealth, their practice, and payment.