Coronavirus stock

In this March 6, 2020, photo, an information sheet on the new coronavirus is posted in the lobby of the South Shore Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, in Rockland, Mass. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

An emergency order has been issued requiring health insurers across the state to expand access to telemedicine during the coronavirus pandemic

The emergency order is in effect until April 9.

The Louisiana Department of Insurance now requires health insurers to cover telemedicine visits in an effort to reduce the volume of patients visiting health care facilities across the state. Health insurers also are required to cover mental health services delivered using telemedicine just as if they were visits in person.

Patients are not required to have an existing relationship with the medical professional prior to the telemedicine visit. Some insurers have that restriction in contracts, and the department's order overrides that provision. 

The order also waives restrictions requiring patients to stay in-network for telemedicine visits. It also mandates that insurance companies evaluate their out-of-network cost-sharing to reduce potential bills if customers can't reach providers in-network.  

Telemedicine isn't often done using patients' personal devices, but an adjustment has been made for that. 

"This rule allows you to use your smartphone, iPad or other devices, which should pretty broadly expand access to it," said Frank Opelka, deputy commissioner of health, life and annuity at the Louisiana Department of Insurance. "It's easing the requirement on which devices can be used, typically there are very specific devices, which protect HIPPA information." 

Last week, the Louisiana Department of Insurance issued an emergency order requiring health insurers across the state to cover coronavirus testing, in addition to other rules meant to reduce the burden on health care providers. 

In early March, the federal government temporarily expanded Medicare telehealth coverage and agreed to pay clinicians so seniors would be able to access doctors without traveling to a health care facility. Previously, Medicare only paid health care providers for routine medical visits when patients used telehealth services or lived in a rural area. Beyond that, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is reimbursing physicians the same amount for telemedicine as in-person visits. 

In early February, Louisiana Medicaid provider Healthy Blue expanded access to medical and behavioral health care through telemedicine for free. Healthy Blue is a joint venture between Anthem and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. 

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Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.