By Vin Gopal
Our bill to ensure residents continue to have access to telehealth and telemedicine by extending the law that guarantees health insurance providers and Medicaid pay healthcare providers the same amount for virtual healthcare as in-person visits is progressing through the Legislature.
When the original bill became law during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, it included a sunset provision to end the practice in two years. That time is rapidly approaching. If we do not extend pay parity for virtual and in-person medical visits thousands of residents will lose timely access to healthcare and mental health services.
Our new legislation originally would have made pay parity permanent, but the governor conditionally vetoed the bill pending a report needed to analyze its impact. So we amended the bill to extend pay parity for one year and it is now moving quickly through both houses. There has been strong bipartisan support for telehealth and telemedicine in the Legislature and we are confident that we have addressed the governor’s concerns and that he will sign the extension into law upon Senate passage.
Telehealth and telemedicine have proven effective tools for patients who cannot get to a doctor in person. We saw the many benefits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, when virtual appointments were crucial in ensuring patients receive the proper care they need when they could not get to a doctor’s office. Telehealth is cost-effective and it works.
The legislation mandates that health benefits plan carriers, the State Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare programs, the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP), and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program (SEHBP) reimburse health professionals for telehealth at the same rates paid for in-person care.
This is a lifeline for people with disabilities, older Americans and others who lack the physical ability or transportation to get to a doctor’s office. Telehealth is critically important in providing mental health services, especially for young people, because it provides an avenue for people in crisis to get help quickly.
As this is our last column of the year, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of the residents who have supported our initiatives and shared their ideas on how to make Monmouth County and New Jersey more affordable, safer and more equitable for all residents. We will always take our lead from residents in setting our legislative agenda.
I also want to thank all of our municipal government, business and non-profit partners for their contributions to improving the quality of life of Monmouth County residents. It takes a team effort to make government work. The LD11 office has been blessed with having all of you as partners. Next month two new, very impressive, compassionate and highly skilled partners will be joining our team when Dr. Margie Donolon and retired Judge Luanne Peterpaul take their oath of office to represent LD11 residents in the State Assembly. They will be a great addition.
And last, but certainly not least, I want to thank the staff of the Link News for giving us the opportunity to talk to you through this column.
Have happy and safe holidays and a healthy, successful and prosperous New Year.
Senator Vin Gopal serves as Senate Majority Conference Leader and Chair of the Senate Education Committee. Elected in 2018, a lifelong resident of Monmouth County, Senator Gopal represents residents of Asbury Park, Allenhurst, Bradley Beach, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Fair Haven, Freehold, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Tinton Falls, Shrewsbury, and Shrewsbury Township in the State Senate.