Last week, Rep. Joseph McGonagle passed an amendment to preserve essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the House of Representative’s An Act Putting Patients First.
McGonagle’s amendment, which was one of 107 considered by the House, prevents any acute care hospitals or health centers to close during the remainder of the Governor’s state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, unless already closed. This amendment will ensure that patients will have a place locally to go for health services. Since March, the Commonwealth has seen the closure of an Emergency Department in Somerville, the loss of 74 inpatient psychiatric beds serving children and adults in Holyoke, the temporary closure of two Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and proposals to close maternity units, birthing centers and more mental health beds in Western Massachusetts.
“COVID-19 has been a huge strain on our healthcare system, both directly related to the virus and in many other factors,” said McGonagle. “The severity of the pandemic itself, combined with the mental health effects that follow and even normally joyous events like childbirth have all been upheaved by the new normal of ‘quarantine life’. Although the work in combating and treating coronavirus by our healthcare professionals has been fantastic, there are still other medical needs that need attention. We can and we must address both. I’m confident in our healthcare professionals and even more confident now that we have secured support though this amendment.”
Among other crucial tenets of the bill, it would require insurers to cover telehealth visits for primary care and chronic disease management at the same rate as in-person service for one year. Behavioral telehealth services, over both phone and video, would be covered at the same rate as in-person care permanently, under the House bill. House Majority Leader Ron Mariano also spoke of the Governor’s proposal of adding a 7 percent surcharge on MassHealth bills to hospitals that are community hospitals which are 60 percent public payers, and he added a 20 percent surcharge to COVID-related diseases in the same hospitals. “We’re going to try that approach and I think it’s a much cleaner and easier way to fund helping our community hospitals,” said Mariano.
The bill is currently being debated in a conference committee.