In a year with few victories to celebrate, advocates for expanded health care in Massachusetts are pointing to at least one win: More access to remote health care, or “telehealth.”
Since early in the pandemic, health insurers have been required to cover telehealth visits as they would in-person care under emergency orders from Gov. Charlie Baker. On Wednesday, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a health care bill that makes that change permanent.
Massachusetts Sen. Cindy Friedman, a sponsor of the new measures, says the natural, if accidental, experiment created by the pandemic has proven the utility of telehealth for certain services, especially behavioral and mental health.
“Behavioral health just alone, no-shows, which used to be over 60%, for a whole host of reasons, all of a sudden that no-show rate (dropped) to something like 5%. Because people all of a sudden had access in a way that they could control,” the Middlesex Democrat said.
Friedman, who was pushing for the changes before the coronavirus pandemic hit, said the need for expanded telehealth is now irrefutable.
“There’s a time and a place,” Friedman said. “You can work on something for a very long time and not get traction, and then there’s an outside force that comes long that really crystalizes the need and the urgency of doing something.”
“We hit this pandemic, and it was clear where we had gaps in our health care system that we needed to address, immediately and for the long term,” she added.