New Jersey Leaders Discuss the Role of Telehealth in the Age of COVID-19

August 14, 2020

In July, U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) joined a Zoom panel of national, state and local experts to discuss lessons learned during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and what can be done next to improve health care for New Jerseyans and Americans.

Joining Representative Malinowski were New Jersey Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (LD-16); Millburn Township Mayor Jackie Benjamin Lieberberg; Madeline Ferraro, Chief Government Affairs Officer of Atlantic Health System; Jerry Starr, Executive Director of Jewish Family Services of Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties; and Liz Goodman, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and Innovation of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

The wide-ranging discussion touched on several of the more challenging issues associated with the COVID-19 response, including rural access to testing, contact tracing and disparities in health outcomes and services. A common theme, however, was the critical role of telehealth during this uncertain time.

Representative Malinowski noted, “The crisis has exposed a lot of inequities in our health care system… But telehealth is one of things that we’ve had to improvise during the crisis that I think should outlast the crisis. A lot of the adjustments that we’ve had to make are going to be temporary, but some of them might actually be retained.”

Health care insurers, providers and patient advocates all agreed that telehealth has been a silver lining in a national moment of crisis.

Representing Atlantic Health System, one of the leading non-profit health care systems in New Jersey, Madeline Ferraro added, “We’re very supportive of telehealth. Telehealth has so many uses and is something that’s really positive that has come out of this.”

Liz Goodman of AHIP, the national association whose members provide coverage for health care and related services, concurred. “We have a fairly broad agreement among the provider and the payor community that we would like the opportunity to be able to continue telehealth,” she noted. “Our members and patients, depending on which chair you’re sitting in, expect us to.”

Jerry Starr’s organization – Jewish Family Services of Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren Counties – provides a range of critical health services for its members. At the onset of COVID-19, the group quickly transitioned to prioritizing telehealth.

“It’s amazing how quickly our staff and our clients adjusted to using this approach. That’s been a terrific takeaway,” Starr commented. “Fortunately, private insurance companies have liberalized what they term telehealth, so that even a telephone call with one of our technicians is covered or reimbursable.”

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