SAN JUAN — Gov. Wanda Vázquez on Friday enacted Senate Joint Resolution 491, which makes provisions to the Puerto Rico Telemedicine Act more flexible, while making the requirements for doctors to practice telemedicine amid of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) threat, more accommodating.
“Given the new reality Puerto Rico is facing, it is a priority to take effective actions in terms of public health, to address the emergency decreed by the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19),” Vázquez said in press release issued by her office, La Fortaleza. “In this regard, I am signing the measure to authorize physicians practicing medicine in Puerto Rico, the use of telemedicine, telephone consultations or any other authorized means to evaluate their patients, as well as to follow up on the treatment,” the governor said.
Doctors are now authorized to send a prescriptions, referrals or medical orders via photograph or any other electronic means to service providers, who must accept and dispatch them.
The bill, which was introduced by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz after speaking with the governor, requires health insurance companies and the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) to pay for services provided to patients electronically, digitally or by telephone as if they had been rendered in a face-to-face consultation. It also orders for any tests or medical treatment that is prescribed to treat Covid-19 to be paid by the health insurance company or ASES. The patient receiving medical care through the use of telemedicine will be exempted from the fixed amount they pay for these services.
The provisions must respect patients’ privacy in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act of 1996 and any applicable federal law or regulation.
In addition, health insurance companies and ASES will be required to include as basic coverage and pay from state or federal funds tests and medical treatment to treat the disease, at prices established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
As a measure to reduce personal contact, contagion and discourage citizens from going to their doctor’s offices, pharmacies are ordered to dispatch medication refills, even if a patient does not have refills available or a new prescription.
The patient will need to show the empty medicine bottle specifying the dose and the identity of the patient. Medications classified as narcotics, or controlled substances, by federal or state laws or regulations are exempt.
Finally, Vázquez said she will send a bill shortly to the Legislative Assembly that would allow for her to include other healthcare professionals, such as psychologists, pathologists, and speech and language therapists, who under the current law would not be able to practice telemedicine.
“Puerto Rico and the world are going through an unprecedented public health crisis,” the governor said. “Unfortunately, we have not been the exception. We have positive cases and it is my responsibility to take all the necessary measures to ensure the greatest protection of our people amid the spread of Covid-19. We cannot affect citizens’ medical services, but at the same time, it is a priority to establish measures to protect medical personnel who are offering these services during the emergency.”