The temporary expansion of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic would become permanent under a bill considered Thursday by a Senate committee.
As passed by the House in March, the bill would allow reimbursement for medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders conducted via telehealth. But an amendment before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee would also make permanent the provisions of Gov.
Chris Sununu's emergency order on telehealth, which allowed all health care providers to offer services via phone, video and other remote systems and required insurers to cover them.
Officials representing hospitals, community health centers, dentists and mental health providers all told the committee that telehealth has been a valuable tool during the pandemic and should continue.
Christine Stoddard of the Bistate Primary Care Association said community health centers "were able to turn on a dime" and transition to telehealth. And though in-person visits have resumed, centers still don't have enough protective gear for staff, making telehealth options essential.
Because of the pandemic, telehealth services have become an important part of the health care system, said Paula Minnehan of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.
"As many experts have predicted, telehealth is here to stay, which is why this legislation is so important to ensure patients are able to get the right care at the right time in the right setting, which ultimately may be in the safety of their own homes," she said.
Ken Norton, director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said telehealth has greatly expanded access to mental health treatment.
"We can't go back," he said.
Other coronavirus developments in New Hampshire:
As of Wednesday, 4,795 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 47 from the previous day. Nine deaths were announced, for a total of 265.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.