Delaware General Assembly Acts to Extend Telehealth Availability as the COVID Crisis Continues

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Like other states, in order to help Delawareans maintain access to critical medical services, the First State’s COVID-19 related emergency declaration and subsequent modifications embraced telehealth. Governor Carney’s Declaration of a State of Emergency, and accompanying modifications (2, 8, and 10) throughout the months of March and April expanded telehealth services in unprecedented ways, removing barriers such as the requirement that a first visit to a physician providing telehealth services take place in person. Now, the General Assembly has stepped in with House Substitute No. 1 for House Bill 348, signed by the Governor on July 17, 2020, which will not expire until July 1, 2021.

The new law ensures Delawareans are able to continue to receive health care services via phone and/or video call, as COVID-19 continues to impact access to healthcare. Importantly, telemedicine services permitted under the bill must receive the same insurance coverage as in-person services provided under existing law, clearing up ambiguities and paving the way for the state’s share of medical services provided via telemedicine to grow.

A few notable amendments to Titles 18 and 24 of the Delaware Code provided via the bill:

  1. Physicians and ARPN’s may prescribe controlled substances including opioids via telemedicine, but with a lot of specific guardrails found in existing law.
  2. Out-of-state health care practitioners can practice via telemedicine in Delaware during the state of emergency occasioned by COVID-19 by following certain procedures.
  3. No practitioner-patient relationship prior to the existence of COVID-19 needs to exist with either physicians or APRN’s to become a telemedicine patient.
  4. Respiratory therapists and physician assistants can now practice telemedicine.

This law does not cover all healthcare professionals. Those professionals who require direct supervision by the nature of the work such as licensed associate counselors of mental health, for example, still can’t practice telemedicine under this particular law. So dial back in toward the end of the 2021 legislative session. By that time, there will be some data and opinions on how things have worked out under these liberalized telemedicine standards. Undoubtedly advocates both for extending these more liberalized telemedicine standards into permanent law, as well as returning to the pre-COVID status quo in Delaware, will make their voices heard before this new law sunsets.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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