Health Care Leaders Applaud Assemblymember for Moving Legislation to Improve Telehealth Access
SACRAMENTO – AB 32, (Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters) historic legislation to lock in access to Telehealth services allowed during the global COVID-19 pandemic moved out of the California State Assembly today on a bipartisan 78-0 vote. AB 32 seeks to make current telehealth flexibilities permanent under state law. Telehealth modalities, like phone and video calls, and remote enrollment in state health programs have been critical in providing health care during COVID-19, but are currently contingent upon federal and state public health emergency declarations.
“The expansion of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the few silver linings of this challenging time. It has transformed healthcare during our nation’s worst health crisis in a century, allowing patients to maintain timely access to care while also mitigating COVID-19 exposure,” said Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry. “Access to healthcare should not require a state of emergency, nor depend upon a person’s location, mobility, or income. It’s time for the State of California to recognize that access to health care is always important, and to make telehealth part of our health world whether or not we face a crisis.”
Policy changes outlined in AB 32 include: creating payment parity between Medi-Cal managed care plans and commercial plans and allowing virtual enrollment for limited scope Medi-Cal programs. Additionally, the intent of the bill is to continue the provision of telehealth in Medi-Cal programs, including video and audio-only technology, by making the telehealth flexibilities instituted during the public health emergency permanent.
Because of telehealth flexibilities, patients — no matter their background, access to local health professionals, or mobility or employment issues — can access the full spectrum of health care, including primary care, specialty services, sexual and reproductive health care services, dental care, behavioral health services and more.
“For far too long, rural Californians have lacked equitable access to quality healthcare,” said Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) Joint Author of the legislation. “So often, patients in rural or underserved areas face insurmountable barriers when attempting to access care, which have only been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cannot take the time off of work, find childcare, or reliable transportation. Accessing healthcare will only become more difficult as the pandemic continues. We have to be creative and find new ways to provide healthcare to our underserved populations. It is critical that we act now to leverage new methods to bring the best care possible to all Californians at a time when healthcare needs are going unmet at an alarming rate.”
If passed by the State Senate and signed by the Governor, AB 32 will be a critical component of the telehealth policy infrastructure and would help pave the way for future health care innovation and advancement. The bill now moves to the State Senate for consideration.
Assembly colleagues, community health care providers and advocacy groups applauded the Assemblymember’s leadership on this critical issue, calling on the Legislature to prioritize passage of AB 32 to codify the telehealth advancements adopted in order to protect patient access during the pandemic into state law.
Health Advocates Applaud Passage of AB 32:
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California
“Telehealth has maintained access to sexual and reproductive health care while keeping patients, providers, and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic – representing 25% of all Planned Parenthood visits in the state, more than half of which are audio visits — and will continue to be relied upon and desired long after the pandemic ends,” said Jodi Hicks, CEO/President of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “Not only has telehealth become an integral part of California’s public health care system, it is critical to addressing the health disparities laid bare by COVID. Where you live, they type of phone you own or what type of insurance you have shouldn’t determine your ability to access health care. AB 32 is essential in Planned Parenthood’s work to continue to meet patients where they are and we applaud the Assembly for moving the bill forward today and thank Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry for her leadership.”
“We are ecstatic to see the Assembly voted on AB 32 and affirmed the significant role of telehealth and telephonic care,” said CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates Senior Vice President, Andie Martinez-Patterson. “Throughout this pandemic, telehealth has ensured greater equity for all persons regardless of their program of coverage by eliminating physical barriers to care. Telehealth, including access to audio only modalities that address the digital divide, has the power to be a great equalizer. Thank you to Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry for her leadership and vision to increase access to care and address health care inequity.”
California Medical Association
“As AB 32 moves forward in the legislative process, CMA remains proud to work with Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry on this critical piece of legislation to ensure that telehealth flexibilities – which have enabled physicians to provide and expand care to Californians across the state during the pandemic – are codified, so that we can continue to meet this moment and lay the groundwork for a more equitable and accessible health care landscape. In order to achieve those goals, providing and sustaining access to care through telehealth must remain a priority,” said Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D., California Medical Association President. “Telehealth has become an essential tool for physicians’ practices during this time because it allows them to provide safe and effective care to their patients. Additionally, telehealth bridges access barriers by utilizing technology to better harness physician time and expertise, and connecting patients to their care providers more quickly, efficiently and conveniently. Protecting the telehealth expansions, especially those that relate to telephonic visits which play a crucial role in bridging access barriers, is essential to both meeting our health care demands in this moment, and to ensuring that all Californians – regardless of their geography, income, or background – can receive access to quality care in the future.”
California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems
“Maintaining telehealth is critical to ensuring access to care and reducing disparities, especially for our most vulnerable Californians. The Assembly’s action marks an important milestone in the legislative process for AB 32, and we hope the Senate will continue to prioritize telehealth and the passage of AB 32.” - Erica Murray, President and CEO, California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems
Essential Access Health
“Telehealth has emerged as a critical pathway for patients across the state to get time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health care remotely during the pandemic,” said Amy Moy, Chief External Affairs Officer at Essential Access Health. “Although COVID-19 created an urgent need for telehealth adoption, barriers to in-person services like transportation, child care, and time away from work are not new. These challenges are a reality for individuals and families across the state, particularly those that are struggling to make ends meet, and will remain long-after we emerge from the pandemic. We applaud the Assembly for voting to advance AB 32 and thank Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry for her leadership and commitment to ensuring that telehealth – including video and audio-only visits – continues to be available for all Californians beyond the public health emergency. We are looking forward to partnering with her and our broad coalition of health care advocates to move the bill through the legislative process and expand health access and equity this session. ”
AB 32 Co-author statements:
Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno)
“AB 32 would increase the availability to health services by providing every possible method of accessing health professionals, i.e. telehealth, which was proven during the pandemic to improve equity and access.”
Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D- Los Angeles).
“I am proud to co-author AB 32 to make telehealth a staple of our healthcare delivery system’s ability to ensure continuity of care. In my district alone, community clinic telehealth services met the health and mental health service needs of nearly 200,000 patients during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The 'no show' rates for appointments decreased as telehealth made it easier for patients to access services in ways that worked for their individual circumstances,” said Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (AD-51, Los Angeles). “Telehealth did away with the requirements to travel long distances on public transportation, take time off work, and arrange childcare. Over the past year, it has reduced wait times to see providers. To be clear, without home internet or unlimited cellular data, those who are elderly, disabled, limited in their English proficiency, or experiencing homelessness are extremely vulnerable, but telehealth makes it possible for them to access uninterrupted, quality, culturally competent care,” she added.
Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo)
“We need to increase access to medical care providers, especially in the rural areas of our state," said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo). "By boosting the use of telehealth, we can ensure that residents in places like the Central Coast can get the care they need without having to travel hours to get it."
Assemblymember Laurie Davies (R- Laguna Niguel)
“If the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything, it illustrated how badly Californians need choices when it comes to their medical care, said Assemblywoman Laurie Davies (R- Laguna Niguel). Expanding opportunities for our communities to implement and utilize telehealth services ensures our constituents have access to critical services when they need it and where they need it.”
Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D- San Diego)
“The advantages of telehealth practices are clear. Through telehealth, California has the ability to close the disparity in healthcare access by reaching a wider range of patients and providing more accessible care. I'm pleased to Co-author AB 32 and fight to make these advantages permanent in our state.”
Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-Arleta)
“California had an ongoing healthcare accessibility problem before the COVID-19 pandemic completely uprooted our healthcare system," said Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-Arleta). “The pandemic forced medical professionals to rethink access to care from afar, enabling telehealth to preserve continuity of care for all patients. More Californians than ever have increased access to their doctors and this bill guarantees telehealth’s accessibility will remain in place after the state reopens. I want to thank Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry for her forward thinking in preserving telehealth’s expansion of care as we navigate a post-pandemic world.”
Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino)
“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has provided critical health care for individuals who avoided in-person visits to protect their families from the virus. Despite the challenges faced, the pandemic demonstrated California’s innovation and ability to deliver high-quality affordable health care via telehealth. I am proud to have supported AB 32 (Aguiar-Curry) to permanently implement some of these revolutionary policies to expand access to care to all Californians – regardless of their income or where they live. Policies like these reduce the barriers for low-income families who cannot afford to step away from their work or struggle with finding transportation and child care.”
Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park)
“Now more than ever, the effects of health care disparities on low income and marginalized communities demonstrate the immediate need for changes to the way healthcare is delivered to our constituents. The past year has shown not only the possibilities using telehealth, but also its effectiveness. AB 32 ensures we invest in and continue to use proven tools that increase access to quality healthcare across the state.”
Assembly Member Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles)
“As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must make sure that low-income communities can access healthcare,” said Assembly Member Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles). “The expansion of telehealth during the pandemic was critical to our low-income communities. AB 32 will ensure that many Californians are able to continue using telehealth services.”
Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton)
“The past year has highlighted the importance of being able to meet remotely for a healthcare appointment. This is especially important in helping expand access to some of the most underserved populations in the San Joaquin Valley. I'm excited to be a part of this effort to expand these #telehealth services for our communities by co-authoring #AB32 “
Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa)
“One of the many things that has changed during the pandemic is how health care is delivered,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood. “Telephone and telehealth became critical in reaching people who needed care or consultation but were confined to their homes. This bill ensures patient access to care and takes a big step toward refining the payment methodology for federally qualified health centers.”
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. www.asm.ca.gov/aguiar-curry