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Hogan to Sign Two Bills to Expand Telehealth Friday

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) plans to sign two bills Friday that would make it easier for doctors and other medical professionals to use telehealth when they’re treating patients, a spokesman said.

One of the bills Hogan will sign, Senate Bill 502, would expand the mental health services Medicaid provides via telehealth. Sponsored by Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), the bill will allow mental health services to be provided via telehealth at a patient’s home.

An element of a House bill introduced by Del. Emily Shelty (D-Montgomery) governing telehealth was incorporated into the Senate bill that Hogan is going to sign, and Shetty’s bill was amended to conform with the Senate measure and also passed both chambers.

The other bill, Senate Bill 402, sponsored by Sens. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) and Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), allows a health care practitioner to establish a relationship with a patient via telehealth. The equivalent House bill, which also passed, was sponsored by Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City).

In a blog post Friday morning, Rosenberg said he first introduced the bill because state law did not allow patients seeking reproductive health care to use telehealth.

“The intent of House Bill 448 was to assist patients who are home bound or whose schedules keep them from making regular office hours,” he wrote. “No one thought that it would be needed because the coronavirus would necessitate hospitals excluding non-emergency patients and doctors closing their offices.”

Hogan’s decision to sign both bills comes on the heels of an executive order he signed Wednesday that will broaden telehealth care to include email services during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s an expansion of a previous executive order permitting audio-only calls as an acceptable mode of telehealth in Maryland.

“Governor Hogan’s executive order of April 1, 2020, and his signature of two emergency telehealth measures planned for April 3 clarify what Maryland physicians can do with telehealth and will help fight the deadly coronavirus crisis,” Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi, the Maryland Medical Society, said in a statement Thursday.

Ransom said the expansion of telehealth in Maryland will “help Maryland physicians assess and treat patients through virtual visits to reduce exposure to the coronavirus.”

Planned Parenthood of Maryland also hailed the legislative developments.

“Planned Parenthood of Maryland was an early supporter of telehealth legislation in order to expand the availability of affordable birth control and improve reproductive health care in underserved communities and prevent unintended pregnancies,” said Karen J. Nelson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. “Telehealth allows doctors and health care providers to make virtual house calls, ensuring that Marylanders living under the COVID-19 stay-at-home order will continue to get the reproductive health care they need from the safety their own home.”

While the two bills were introduced before the outbreak of COVID-19, they were deemed emergency legislation in the final days of the General Assembly session, which adjourned on March 18, three weeks early.

Other than a few pieces of emergency legislation that Hogan has already signed, hundreds of bills that passed during the session haven’t been formally presented to the governor, Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said Thursday evening. Once they are, he will have 30 days to decide whether to sign them, veto them, or let them become law without his signature.

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Hogan to Sign Two Bills to Expand Telehealth Friday