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By Mia Summerson Sentinel Staff

The N.H. Senate on Tuesday passed a bill with sponsorship from two local lawmakers that would expand Granite Staters’ access to telehealth services. The bill will next head to the N.H. House for a vote.

The omnibus legislation, known as House Bill 1623, would ensure that virtual health-care services are covered and reimbursed in the same way that in-person medical care is. The bill is sponsored by nine state representatives, including Joe Schapiro, and two state senators, including Jay Kahn. Kahn and Schapiro are both Keene Democrats.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth — the remote delivery of medical care, including via video conference — has been a common way to continue providing services by reducing the exposure risk to patients entering a health-care center. Kahn, who represents 15 Cheshire County communities in Senate District 10, has long been an advocate for enhancing telehealth services, having been the lead sponsor on similar pieces of legislation in the past.

“Telemedicine has been a primary mode for health and mental health care providers to communicate with patients throughout the COVID-19 crisis,” Kahn said in a prepared statement from the Senate issued after the vote. “While in-office visits have resumed, it’s clear that telemedicine is a critical tool in providing timely and efficient access to diagnosis and treatment.”

The bill draws from language in Senate bills 555 and 647, which are both currently in committee and deal with telemedicine coverage and prescribing medication for the treatment of substance-use disorders via telemedicine, respectively.

HB 1623, if signed into law, would ensure reimbursement parity for telehealth services and would require that those services be covered through Medicaid and commercial health-insurance plans. It would also allow patients in settings such as correctional facilities to be prescribed medicine through telehealth.

Additionally, the bill would enable schools to take advantage of telehealth to deliver Medicaid-reimbursed services to their students.

Currently, under an emergency order Gov. Chris Sununu signed March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, insurance providers and Medicaid are required to include “clinically appropriate, medically necessary covered services to members via telehealth.” The bill would ensure those services continue to be covered after the emergency order ends.

Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, who was not a sponsor of the bill but voted for it, said the positive impacts of telehealth services were becoming apparent even before the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly in rural areas.

“Remote health care has given our providers the ability to diagnose and address problems early on, improving the public health and welfare of Granite Staters while saving the state substantial long-term medical costs,” he said in a prepared statement. “We cannot go back.”

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