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Health panel to return to telemedicine

Telemedicine, small business insurance coverage and the size of Maryland’s health care workforce are expected to take center stage in discussions at the Maryland Health Care Commission’s monthly meeting in Baltimore County on Thursday.

The MHCC, a 15-member regulatory agency in the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, will review results of the Maryland Health Workforce Study, which revealed a statewide deficit of 750 primary care physicians.

The study, compiled by Colorado-based IHS Global Inc. and supported with money from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, focused on workforce levels in the primary care, mental health and dental specialties. The first part of the study, which was presented to the MHCC last month, found that current systems for collecting data about the latter two specialties were limited.

The second phase of the study, which reports on the current workforce supply, will be presented Thursday. The report also found significant variation in demand for physicians across the state; despite the overall deficit, some areas actually have a surplus of doctors.

The MHCC will also address the status of the Maryland Health Insurance Partnership, a program that subsidizes employee insurance premiums for very small employers. The partnership, which began in 2008, is being phased out and replaced by the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), the online insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act for employers with 50 or fewer workers.

Officials say the partnership is no longer necessary because small employers can still get assistance via SHOP, which offers tax credits toward eligible workers’ insurance premiums.

On Jan. 1, the partnership will stop accepting new enrollees. Officials also originally planned to require current enrollees to renew their policies before Jan. 1 if they wanted to stay in the partnership for another year. The SHOP exchange was supposed to be available by that time.

However, the state delayed launching the SHOP exchange until April 1 (it was supposed to debut in October, but officials twice pushed back the date because they needed more time to fix problems). That means officials have to keep operating the Maryland Health Insurance Partnership — and give current enrollees more time to renew their policies — until the SHOP exchange is up and running.

MHCC staff said some technical changes must be made to the partnership’s operations because the Affordable Care Act altered the way premiums must be calculated for all plans offered next year.

The partnership is open only to employers with between two and nine workers who earn an average wage of less than $50,000. As of last week, 417 businesses were enrolled, covering 1,914 employees and family members.

Additionally, the MHCC will review a report on the state’s progress in expanding health care providers’ use of telemedicine — the practice of delivering care remotely using video-conferencing and other electronic information-sharing systems. The Telemedicine Task Force, which was formed in 2010 to address a number of technology and policy issues that create barriers to widespread adoption of telemedicine, reconvened in July to evaluate the state’s progress.

The task force will present to the MHCC its interim report, which must be submitted to Gov. Martin O’ Malley and two committees in the General Assembly by Jan. 1. Among other things, the report will discuss task force members’ recent efforts to develop a statewide directory of telemedicine providers that could be accessed via Maryland’s Health Information Exchange, a secure platform for sharing health care data and patient medical records with providers across the state.

A final report with recommendations is required by December of next year.