UPDATE: The Connecticut Senate unanimously gave its approval to the telehealth bill by a vote of 35-0 on Tuesday afternoon. No senators raised any amendments on the bill before voting to approve it. Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, did not vote on the bill.
There was no debate in the Connecticut House of Representatives about the need to set temporary telehealth rules as members voted unanimously Thursday to send the bill to the Senate for its approval.
Before passing the bill, legislators also approved by voice vote an amendment that would give the Commissioner of Public Health emergency powers until March 15 to “temporarily waive, modify or suspend any regulatory requirements” necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The House voted 145-0 to pass the bill, with six members absent.
As legislators discussed the legislation requiring insurers to reimburse healthcare providers for remote visits over video and audio at the same rate as in-person visits — an idea called payment parity — the sole point of contention was how long that provision should last.
When the bill was heard before the Insurance and Real Estate Committee earlier in the week, the provision was drafted to expire on June 30, 2021 — a date chosen to provide the legislature with adequate time to review the rule during the regular session starting in January.
During the committee hearing on Tuesday, Susan Halpin, who lobbies on behalf of private insurers as executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, asked for the bill to expire in December.
Halpin argued that private insurers have been voluntarily offering payment parity, and would likely continue to do so as long as telehealth continued to be a necessity during the pandemic.
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said that the sunset date was settled on after extensive discussions with legislative leaders and industry.
The bill brought to the floor on Thursday afternoon would instead expire on March 15, about halfway through the scheduled session.
Lawmakers on both side of the aisle pushed to have the bill’s sunset date extended to June 30, given the possibility that it would not be safe for lawmakers to return in January for the regular session.
“Obviously, March is a long time away from here,” Scanlon said. “We have no idea what’s going to happen between now, July, and March 2021, so we just wanted to give us enough room to get into next session, keep this going for the next seven months, and then have a conversation when we get back into regular session next year about what to do long-term with telehealth.”
Rep. Jay Case, R-Winchester, said he was concerned with the possibility of the provisions ending in March before the legislature can extend them. Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, also questioned the March 15 sunset date, saying, “there is basically no indication we would be out of social distancing by March.”
Scanlon said that the legislature would find a way to extend the bill outside of the regular session if it needed to.
“None of us know what’s going to happen between now and then, and I hope to God and pray to God that we will be in a better place,” Scanlon said. “But if we’re not, then I think that we would find a way to come in here and do what we’re doing today.”
A provision of the bill that allows pharmacists to transfer prescriptions to another pharmacy without getting permission from the prescriber does not have a sunset date, Scanlon said. He said that could be useful if someone has moved temporarily due to the pandemic, or if a patient’s typical pharmacy is out of their medication