PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Rhode Islanders now have the option to make virtual appointments with their doctors after Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Wednesday directing health insurers to cover visits conducted by phone or online.
Raimondo said all health insurers must cover the virtual visits in full as part of the state’s ongoing efforts to prevent further community spread of COVID-19. She signed a similar executive order over the weekend but said Wednesday it did not go far enough.
“I need providers to hear that, and I need patients to hear that, because if as a patient that’s not your experience, you need to let us know so we can further enforce it,” the governor said during a news conference Wednesday.
Her order says it applies to “all medically appropriate telehealth visits,” including primary and specialty care, as well as mental and behavioral health care. Virtual visits must be reimbursed at the same rate as an office visit. It applies to all health insurers operating in Rhode Island.
“In order to protect public health and mitigate exposure to and the spread of COVID-19, it is essential to facilitate the delivery of telemedicine services as a convenient, easily accessible, and affordable option to both health care providers and patients,” the executive order reads.
Raimondo said telemedicine allows those in quarantine to still be cared for by their physicians and also gives vulnerable patients the option to stay home. She said it applies even to “just a phone call,” as well as video conferencing such as FaceTime.
“We’ve been hearing from physicians that it’s just not safe for people to come in for appointments,” Raimondo said.
The executive order also notes that the Trump administration this week made changes to Medicare “to remove barriers to telemedicine/telehealth services” and to ensure “reasonable consistency among insurance plans.”
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Wednesday the state’s Medicaid program is expected to receive roughly $150 million in addition federal funding through the coronavirus legislation passed Wednesday. The funding will assist in covering the costs of health services across the state, including telemedicine.
“Rhode Island’s health care system will get a big lift from this Medicaid funding as it ramps up preparations to fight the virus,” Whitehouse said.