New York State (WRGB) — When the pandemic first swept through the country, many people were afraid to leave their homes--even for doctors' visits. Telemedicine allowed them to share their concerns with their physicians and get treated without putting either party at risk.
With mask mandates gone, and vaccines and boosters in place, doctors' groups are now trying to preserve what they say is a vital service by ensuring telehealth visits are given payment parity with trips to the doctor's office.
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Tens of thousands of physicians and hospital groups have signed on to a statement out Tuesday that applauds Governor Hochul and the State Senate for including telehealth payment reform in their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. They want to see providers reimbursed for telehealth visits on a par with payments for in-care treatment.
Doctors' groups say telemedicine has increased access to surgeons and surgical teams, reduced emergency department visits, enhanced pediatric care as well as care for those with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. And they say it's been an important supplement to in-person care during pregnancy and post-partum issues.
Dr. Joseph sellers is the President of the Medical Society of the State of New York. He says telemedicine has been the one positive to come out of the pandemic.
"We've learned how to meet patients where they're at with telemedicine. We've learned how to help people who are homebound, rural.....we've also found how we can help when snowing and icy. They don't have to go to the doctor. The doctor comes to them virtually..." he said.
Dr. Sellers says telemedicine is an essential tool to keep people connected to their primary care physicians and to improve timely access to specialists.
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He adds that the current system allows people to take advantage of tele visits without any governing agency telling them where they have to go.
The governor's budget proposal would require health plans--both Medicaid and commercial--to pay providers for services thru telehealth at the same level as in-person visits