With spring on the horizon and longer days ahead, so too have the days been long in the General Assembly with legislative work intensifying as Sine Die nears.
Over 1,200 bills were introduced this session in the General Assembly, and some of the most notable issues that have arisen include cannabis legislation, gun violence prevention, expansion of health care access, abortion care and more.
I serve on the Senate Finance Committee, and we hear bills related to financial institutions, insurance, health care, alcohol and tobacco, cannabis, and labor and employment. One issue of focus has been health care access, with legislation designed to improve health care delivery, lower the cost of health care and ultimately optimize patient health.
I was proud to sponsor Senate Bill 534 — Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2023 — which would ensure Marylanders have access to health care in the modality best for them by preserving parity insurance coverage for telehealth visits, including “audio only” visits. By way of background, during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, as we all stayed home to slow the spread of the virus, many Marylanders had to utilize telehealth to obtain routine health care. Emergency federal and state waivers during the declared public health emergency allowed telehealth to ramp up quickly.
During the 2021 General Assembly session, the legislature passed the Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021, which allowed health care providers to continue delivering safe, reliable care via telehealth at the right place, right time and the right modality for patients. The bill permanently removed originating and distant site restrictions and expanded remote patient monitoring (RPM) coverage for Medicaid participants. It also allowed providers to continue using audio-only means, such as a standard phone call, to deliver appropriate health care services and required reimbursement parity, meaning services delivered in-person and those delivered via telehealth are to be paid at the same rate.
However, the continuation of audio-only telehealth services and reimbursement parity flexibilities were slated to sunset on June 30, 2023. Senate Bill 534, which I sponsored, continues the success of the original Preserve Telehealth Access Act by extending the existing flexibilities and requires the Maryland Health Care Commission to submit a follow-up study focused on telehealth.
For some individuals, telehealth can be the difference between a visit to a health care provider, or no care at all, particularly for behavioral health services, which have been critical in the aftermath of the pandemic. This legislation is a measured approach to continue current telehealth policies while fully understanding the role of telehealth in our health care system, and with support from payors, patients, and providers alike, the bill unanimously passed the Senate (which, by the way, was my first bill to pass the Senate).
Other health care bills that have passed the Senate include Senate Bill 234, which clarifies the authority of the Health Services Cost Review Commission to take into consideration the objective standards of effectiveness and efficiency to determine the reasonableness of hospital rates consistent with the All-Payer Model Contract. This bill will help ensure that the total costs of all services offered by a hospital are reasonable and that rates are set equitably among all purchasers of hospital services.
In addition, the Senate passed SB202, which would make clear that the Prescription Drug Affordability Board has the authority to cap prescription drug costs. As we know, many consumers have trouble affording their prescription drugs, and this bill is a step toward ensuring that Marylanders have access to affordable prescription medications. Among the other measures we have passed to alleviate health care and prescription drug costs was Senate Bill 184, which I was proud to co-sponsor with Senator Pam Beidle. This bill, which also passed the Senate unanimously, would require coverage for diagnostic and supplemental breast examinations without a copayment, coinsurance, or deductible requirement. We appreciate working with the Susan G. Komen Foundation on this important issue.
The above bills — and so many others introduced this session — reflect the General Assembly’s ongoing commitment to improving health outcomes by increasing health care access and lowering costs. I will continue to advocate on this important issue. Many thanks to my constituents for the honor to serve you as your senator. Please reach out to my office at email@example.com or 410-841-3568 with any questions or concerns.
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