(TNS) — Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell that expands the availability of telehealth services and requires insurers to cover the costs of those services has been signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Mrs. Russell made the announcement Thursday at a news conference at the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Service administrative building.
Telehealth is a rapidly expanding field that can provide health care and medical advice at a distance using technology. Doctors and health care professionals can be on call at all times and ready to answer patient questions, diagnose illnesses or recommend in-person treatment — all while the patient is in a more convenient location.
“This is a landmark bill that will help expand availability of medical services because it ensures telemedicine services will be paid for through your insurance company,” said Mrs. Russell, D-Theresa.
She said the legislation would bring much-needed health care to rural and underserved communities and require Medicaid to reimburse telehealth service costs. The technology is already available in many parts of the community, she said, but it would have gathered dust without a guarantee that physicians would be compensated for using it.
Thomas H. Carman, president and CEO of Samaritan Medical Center, said the hospital and other community facilities, including Carthage Area Hospital, Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, River Hospital in Alexandria Bay and Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg have the equipment.
“I recognize the fact we have a shortage of some professionals and frankly, even in the areas we do have the professionals, they might not be in the right location,” Mr. Carman said.
David C. Johnson, certified telehealth liaison at North Country Healthcare Providers, called the legislation an important step to overcoming significant barriers to obtaining vital health care services, especially across the more rural areas of the state.
Mr. Johnson said equipment carts allow doctors not only to have video conferences with patients, but to fully examine them.
He said there is an otoscope for a doctor to examine a patient’s ears, nose and throat from miles away, a movable camera to provide a detailed image for a dermatologist to examine skin lesions, and other equipment such as a stethoscope.
Denise K. Young, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, said the use of telemedicine will improve access and integration of health care across the entire region.
“We’ve been working a long time to make this happen, so this is a really good day for the north country,” Mrs. Young said.
“We have millions of dollars in high-speed fiber for this technology to travel on. We have invested over a million dollars in equipment at our health care facilities and primary care offices.”
Mrs. Russell said the Telehealth law will help keep children in school, providing as normal a life as possible for those who might be undergoing treatment for serious medical conditions or who need psychological services.
Stephen J. Todd, Jefferson-Lewis BOCES superintendent, said the new legislation will allow schools to use psychological services, too. BOCES was awarded grant funding in March to purchase video teleconferencing units for 37 schools.
“Essentially it’s now been put into law that health insurance can recognize a different kind of treatment using technology most of our community members are familiar and comfortable with and make sure it applicable to our health care providers,” Mrs. Russell said.
©2015 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)