Telehealth, Vaccine Equity & More

Dave Renner, CAE, our legislative rep, urges Minnesota family docs to reach out to their legislators to ask for support for telehealth and shares updates on legislation on COVID-19 vaccine equity and administration as well as cytomegalovirus.

Protect Telehealth—the Time Is Now

The Minnesota Legislature is on recess through April 6, 2021. It’s a great time to reach out to your representatives and ask for their support of telehealth coverage, including telephone services and payment parity (SF 1160, HF 1412). 

While there continues to be strong bipartisan support for continuing much of the telehealth coverage that was expanded in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many legislators who are questioning the continuation of telephone-only coverage and whether it should be reimbursed at the same rate as other care.

Telephone coverage is critical for addressing Minnesota’s health disparities, especially for those who live in areas without strong broadband access and do not have access to the equipment needed for video appointments. 

Movement on Vaccine Equity Bill

Legislation (HF 2113) that calls for creating a new position at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to disproportionally impacted communities was heard in the House Health Finance and Policy Committee on March 22, 2021.

“We know that the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities have been hit harder in terms of infections and death. This bill aims to build up our public health infrastructure, so we are ready for the next pandemic,” said Representative Kelly Morrison, MD (DFL-Deephaven).

The Director of COVID-19 Vaccination Equity and Outreach will work with community-based organizations, tribal governments, local health departments, faith-based organizations and local health providers to deliver information that is culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate related to the COVID-19 vaccine. The director would also develop media campaigns and outreach directed towards communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

In Minnesota, whites make up 81 percent of the population but have received 91 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines, leaving BIPOC Minnesotans under-vaccinated. “This bill creates a foundation for us to do crucial work,” said Hannah Lichtsinn, MD, testifying on behalf of the Minnesota Chapter of the America Academy of Pediatrics. Lichtsinn reminded the committee that Black, Asian, American Indian, Latinx, and mixed-race Minnesotans have died at rates two and a half to six times higher than white Minnesotans.

Nathan Chomilo, MD, told the committee that the bill provides an opportunity to address structural obstacles to COVID-19 vaccines and could remove long-standing barriers to care going forward. Chomilo was recently named by MDH as its senior vaccine equity leader.

HF 2113 was laid over for possible inclusion in the House Health and Human Services omnibus budget bill.

Legislation on Cytomegalovirus

The Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee heard legislation that directs the commissioner of health to provide up-to-date, evidence-based information to health care practitioners, pregnant people and parents on human herpesvirus cytomegalovirus (CMV).

The bill, SF 1698, is also known as the “Vivian Act,” named after a patient with CMV. The information shall include recommendations on testing for CMV, the incidence of CMV, birth defects caused by CMV, resources for children born with CMV and more.

An amendment was adopted in committee that requires CMV to be added to the list of tests administered through the universal newborn screening. The question whether this or any new condition should be added to newborn screening is usually done by the commissioner of health, with the input of an advisory committee. It is a bad precedent for this to be done through legislation.

SF 1698 was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus Health and Human Services budget bill.

Increasing MA Payment for COVID-19 Vaccine

On March 25, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed HF 1438, increasing the Medical Assistance (MA) reimbursement rate for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to the Medicare level. The House passed the bill unanimously on March 18, 2021, sending the bill to Governor Walz for his signature.

On March 15, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services increased the Medicare payment rates for COVID-19 vaccine administration effective for services furnished on or after March 15, 2021. The new Medicare payment rate for administering a COVID-19 vaccine is $40, up from $28.39. 

Under Minnesota’s MA program, reimbursements were even less ($12.84 for the administration of any vaccine). Under this bill, reimbursement will increase to $40 per dose—and the increase expires one year after the end of a federal public health emergency related to COVID-19.

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