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Legislation would make pandemic-era expansion of telehealth services permanent

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Legislation would make pandemic-era expansion of telehealth services permanent

Mar 31, 2023 | 4:03 pm ET
By Camalot Todd
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Legislation would make pandemic-era expansion of telehealth services permanent
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Throughout the pandemic, use of telehealth services grew dramatically, and use remains high. (Getty Images)

A temporary pandemic-era law expanding access to telehealth would be made permanent under legislation being considered by Nevada lawmakers.

Senate Bill 119 would also require third party insurers to cover telehealth at the same rates as in-person care.

Telehealth access had been expanded under the state’s Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19, which ended on May 20, 2022. Under existing law, the expanded telehealth measures are scheduled to expire June 30 of this year. SB 119 would repeal the expiration date, making the expanded access permanent.

Without SB 119, “we go back to where we were in 2015 where the only mandate for telehealth with be that set by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), and even under the CMS regulations the state doesn’t have to follow [those],” said Corie Nieto, the director of telehealth services at the Nevada Health Centers. 

Testifying in support of the bill, the Nevada Advanced Practice Nurses Association said telehealth is especially important for rural Nevadans, and offers multiple advantages to every community, ranging from allowing primary care providers to refer patients to specialists, to saving time and money spent to travel to doctors appointments.

Nevada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic allowed telephone visits, non-HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant platforms, and expanded approved services to telehealth. The federal response allowed practices across state lines, telephone visits, waiving pre-existing patient or provider relations, and authorized Medicare patients to access telehealth. 

Throughout the pandemic, use of telehealth services for behavioral health conditions increased dramatically, and while dipping from early pandemic peaks, use remains high.

The Nevada Association of Health Plans, a statewide trade association representing insurance companies, opposed the bill’s parity provisions, by which telehealth services would be covered at the same rates as in-person care. Those provisions would increase costs and “create an uneven playing field for providers who chose to only offer services virtually,” the association said in testimony to the committee.

In addition to the Nevada Advanced Practice Nurses Association and the Nevada Health Centers, supporters of the legislation include the national nonprofit Comagine Health, the Nevada Psychological Association and the Certified Community Behavioral Health Center, which has locations in Elko, Dayton, Carson City and Reno. 

No action was taken on the bill by the committee at its hearing Thursday.