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Telehealth expansion could become permanent after pandemic

June 4, 2020 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The temporary expansion of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic would become permanent under a bill endorsed Thursday by a Senate committee.

As passed by the House in March, the bill would allow reimbursement for medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders conducted via telehealth. But an amendment recommended by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee would also make permanent the provisions of Gov. Chris Sununu’s emergency order on telehealth, which allowed all health care providers to offer services remotely and required insurers to cover them.

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Officials representing hospitals, community health centers, dentists and mental health providers all told the committee that telehealth has been a valuable tool during the pandemic and should continue.

“As many experts have predicted, telehealth is here to stay, which is why this legislation is so important to ensure patients are able to get the right care at the right time in the right setting, which ultimately may be in the safety of their own homes,” said Paula Minnehan of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

Ken Norton, director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said telehealth has greatly expanded access to mental health treatment.

“We can’t go back,” he said.

Other coronavirus developments in New Hampshire:

WEDDING PLANS

Brides, grooms, and wedding planners told a task force on reopening New Hampshire’s economy Thursday they need to know if they can go ahead with their plans, or risk losing thousands of dollars.

“It is killing us mentally and emotionally to not know,” one bride told the group during a public comment session. One groom who was supposed to get married in May asked if the state could allow social distancing for dining outside of restaurants, why couldn’t the same be done for weddings?

Speakers said the events would easily allow for contact tracing, if needed.

“We are running out of time to save the 2020 season, which also means we are running out of time to save this industry without significant financial help,” said Hilary Gallagher, of the New Hampshire Coalition of Wedding Vendors.

The task force sent its recommended guidance for how weddings and other large catered events could be held to public health officials and Gov. Chris Sununu on May 19. But they did not include a start date for such events, and officials have yet to act on them.

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UNEMPLOYMENT

New claims for unemployment benefits dropped for the seventh straight week in New Hampshire, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday.

Just under 7,000 individuals filed new claims during the week ending May 23, down 21% compared to the previous week. While new claims continue to be added at higher than prepandemic rates, the number of ongoing claims has dropped, indicating that the easing of restrictions has resulted in more people returning to work, officials said.

But as the economy recovers, the fallout likely will be felt for years, said Sarah Mattson Dustin, executive director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance. The organization is handling 10 times its usual number of cases involving unemployment claims, she said Thursday during a call organized by NH Campaign for Legal Services.

“That number could be 20-fold a month from now,” she said.

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THE NUMBERS

As of Thursday, 4,876 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 81 from the previous day. Eight deaths were announced, for a total of 273.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.