SACRAMENTO, CA – In his last day to act on legislation from the 2019 Session, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 744 by Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). AB 744 is landmark legislation that requires true telehealth parity in coverage and reimbursement in California. This means that health plans must provide reimbursement to healthcare providers for performing covered services, regardless of whether the care is provided in-person or through telehealth.
“California, the technology leader in our nation and the world, should also lead on access to health services. Telehealth overcomes barriers to healthcare access by using technology to connect patients to their doctors, no matter where they live, what the demands of their jobs are, or what mobility challenges they may have,” said Aguiar-Curry. “By taking advantage of technological innovations in the healthcare industry, we can use our doctors’ time and expertise more efficiently while expanding access to all types of care for Californians.”
Prior to AB 744, a loophole in existing law allowed individual health plans to lawfully exclude common and cost-effective types of telehealth. This works by conditioning reimbursement for telehealth to only include services provided through one specific telehealth technology platform - usually a third-party vendor - or requiring the patient to be in a health facility. In practice, this creates additional burdens for both the patient seeking care and the provider. For example, different third-party vendors contract with different plans. That places the burden on the provider to adopt multiple platforms to get paid for their work, and limits patients to only communicate with a provider who is part of their plan’s third party network.
In Lake County during the 2017 North Bay Fires, Sutter Lakeside Hospital was closed for two weeks. The hospital was able to use telehealth in order to continue treating patients in the Lake County community, but they did this without knowing whether the providers would be reimbursed for their services. In Sonoma County during the same disaster, Santa Rosa Community Health Center’s providers made 1,412 telephonic visits to patients impacted by the emergency without getting reimbursed.
“Telehealth is not just a rural issue. Though expanding the use of telehealth will create more access to care for people in small towns and rural communities, telehealth is also a critical tool for healthcare during and after natural disasters, like wildfires and floods. And, California’s working families shouldn’t have to choose between their day’s pay and the health of their loved ones to benefit from an expanded network of care,” explained Aguiar-Curry. “I am excited to see the benefits of AB 744 for Californians in the coming years, and thankful to the Newsom Administration, and the bill’s stakeholders for working on this significant policy.”
In a statement from the California Medical Association, a key supporter of the legislation, CMA President David H. Aizuss, M.D., said:
“This important legislation recognizes the need to update and modernize our health care system, to improve access to care for patients and make care easier and more convenient. By creating a more consistent and reliable reimbursement structure for telehealth services, this bill will ensure that Californians, regardless of their location, have better access to necessary medical care, reduce overall costs of care for patients and to the system, and facilitate better physician communication with patients.”
Aguiar-Curry represents the 4th Assembly District, which includes all of Lake and Napa Counties, parts of Colusa, Solano and Sonoma Counties, and all of Yolo County except West Sacramento.