SOUTHERN COLORADO — Gov. Jared Polis signed four new bills into law Monday to protect and expand a variety of health care services for Coloradans.
One expands affordable health care coverage for working adults with disabilities past the age of 65.
Another ensures everyone knows all available options when it comes to health care coverage with the easy enrollment program.
The third will continue funding a program that lowers premiums and expands coverage for thousands of Colorado residents.
Lastly, Governor Polis signed legislation to protect telehealth beyond the pandemic. News5 took a closer look at this bill, SB20-212, which the Colorado chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association and the Home Care and Hospice Association of Colorado said requires health insurance carriers, including Medicaid, cover telehealth sessions that are conducted through a HIPAA-compliant platform.
Because of the pandemic, patients can get care virtually, an action that could have ended when the emergency does. This bill protects telehealth regardless of the pandemic, for behavioral, mental, and physical health. It also allows telehealth for everything from a consultation to a diagnosis, and requires the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) to reimburse federally qualified health care centers, rural health care centers, and the Indian Health Service for telemedicine services.
Further, the bill lets clients establish care with a provider through telehealth, and prevents health insurance carriers from setting specific limits on the technology needed for telehealth, as long as it is HIPAA-compliant.
For local mother Kendra Lubin, telehealth is the best option for her 15-year-old son. He's been a client with MGA Homecare for around six years. Lubin said her son has been hospitalized three times this year for pneumonia, and is much more susceptible to getting sick than the average person.
"If someone's not feeling well, or if he's running a low grade fever and could potentially have something, we could still possibly do therapy and not spread germs to anybody else or pass it to other families, because therapists come into our home and others," said Lubin.
MGA Homecare provides physical, occupational, and speech therapy to families within their homes. When coronavirus hit, their business was cut in half. So, the company transitioned to a telehealth model, and have actually gained new clients, surpassing the amount of people served from before the virus. Those with MGA Homecare said they are grateful SB20-212 was signed into law.
"We don't have to worry about the child going without, and regressing from the progress they've made with our therapists being able to perform the telemedicine. So, it's very exciting for the therapists, for the families, and especially the children," said Cal Critchfield, the area vice president for MGA Homecare, which has locations in Denver and Pueblo as well.
Some of the families even prefer the virtual sessions to those in-person. "It was amazing how quickly the kids are able to utilize technology and interact in an even better manner for some kids via an audio visual connection than they are in person. Especially with kiddos on the autism spectrum disorder, where having some other people around them can be overwhelming or a sensory processing issue for them. Those kids have definitely excelled with having the ability to utilize audio visual connections for their therapy sessions," said Andrea Skoog, the therapy director and a speech therapy pathologist for MGA Homecare.
Meanwhile, AspenPointe turned their model into telemedicine in around 24-48 hours at the start of the pandemic. Around 80% of their clients have now adjusted to either telehealth or telephone services. The Interim Vice President of Clinical Services for AspenPointe, Katie Blickenderfer, said we will start seeing the mental health effects of the pandemic in the coming weeks as people start reintegrating into society, so the less barriers to safely receive services, the better.
"It's actually increased our ability to provide mental health services for our community... Provide more televideo crisis evaluations for somebody who's struggling. And this has been particularly helpful out in our rural counties where the need isn't as high, but when there is a need, we want to be able to fill it in support," said Blickenderfer.
She said the passing of SB20-212 allows them to plan for the future, and evolve with their telehealth model. "It really allows us to ensure that we're not turning people away," said Blickenderfer.
News5 also obtained a statement from Centura Health regarding SB20-212:
Centura Health was pleased to see the legislature and Governor Polis help make telehealth services more available in Colorado. The expanded Medicaid reimbursement helps our system continue to offer telehealth services where appropriate.