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Vainieri Huttle, Benson & Giblin Bill to Require Emergency Response Plan for Developmental Disabilities' Service Providers Clears Assembly Panel
(TRENTON) – To ensure care providers that serve New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities are prepared for public emergencies, legislation that would require the creation of emergency response plans by the state was approved Thursday by the Assembly Human Services Committee.
          The measure (A-4138) would require the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Health, the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, and the State Office of Emergency Management in the Department of Law and Public Safety, to develop and oversee implementation of a public emergency response plan for licensed providers serving individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. The plan would be created and executed within 30 days of the bill’s enactment.
          The bill is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson and Thomas Giblin.
          “No one was fully prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, including our developmental centers,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It’s critical that we make sure providers have a roadmap of best practices and standards to follow going forward so that we may better protect our most vulnerable.”
          A public emergency response plan under the bill must include, at a minimum:
·       Establish guidelines and best practices for operations, activities and procedures;
·       Identify means, methods and channels so they may obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);
·       And other resources necessary to operate and provide services during a public emergency;
·       Address various possible emergency scenarios and provide appropriate best practices to handle different types of public emergencies, and; 
·       Be consistent with and incorporate any guidance published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and any other federal agencies involved in the remediation of public emergencies.
          “Providers that serve individuals with developmental disabilities face unique challenges in combating the spread of COVID-19,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Social distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand-washing may be more difficult for people with sensory, cognitive or physical impairments. That’s why it’s so important for providers to have a plan in place to guide residents in practicing these standard precautions.”
          “The virus is known to spread in congregate living settings, and sadly, we’ve seen this happen at alarming rates in our developmental centers,” said Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “Even more concerning, people with disabilities are at a higher risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19. We must take action to ensure this doesn’t happen again, particularly as we prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.”
          Additionally, under the bill, the emergency response plan would be reviewed on a biennial basis and as soon as possible following the declaration of a public emergency. A copy of the plan would be posted online.
          The measure now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration. 

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Assembly Committee Passes Bill to Improve Accessibility of Telehealth and Telemedicine Services

To improve access and affordability of care delivered remotely, Assembly Democrats Joann Downey, Herb Conaway, Eric Houghtaling, Daniel Benson and Robert Karabinchak sponsor legislation to provide expanded coverage for telemedicine and telehealth services. The measure was approved by the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday.

Specifically, the bill (A-4179/4200) would require New Jersey health benefits plans, Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare, and the State Health Benefits Programs and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program to reimburse medical providers for telehealth and telemedicine services at the same rate as for equivalent in-person care in New Jersey.

“If a doctor can provide the same quality of services virtually that they can in person, there’s no reason for insurance plans to discriminate by lowering that doctor’s reimbursement,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “We’ve seen throughout this pandemic that many services can be provided equally well through virtual means, often at lower cost and greater convenience to all parties involved.”

Current law provides that telemedicine and telehealth services may be reimbursed up to the amount at which in-person service is reimbursed.

“Our COVID-responsive expansions of telehealth and telemedicine were significant in spurring the implementation of remote care technologies,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “Ensuring we can take advantage of this proliferation beyond the pandemic will be critical to providing better, well-rounded care.”

The bill would also prohibit health plans from limiting where care provided via telehealth and telemedicine could originate from, and from restricting the use of electronic or technological platforms if services meet the in-person standard of care and comply with certain federal health privacy rules.

“The challenge to successful delivery of virtual care has always been its expense,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “Equalizing reimbursement rates as this bill does allows more equitable costs to be passed on to patients making remote consultation a more cost-effective option.”

“This legislation paves the way for New Jersey to innovate and better address the broad spectrum of healthcare needs that exist,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex).

“Expanding access to different modes of care is critical to raise the quality of care provided in New Jersey,” said Karabinchak (D-Middlesex). “Particularly when it comes to underserved and aging communities, who may be especially challenged by the need to travel for an in-person doctor’s appointment.”

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.


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