Telemedicine regulations are advancing by leaps and bounds across the country.
As federal laws seek to expand coverage for healthcare via videoconferencing tech for Medicare and Medicaid patients in the newly re-introduced CONNECT for Health Act of 2017, local legislation is rapidly evolving alongside it to introduce more lenient use cases for telehealth services.
With legislation seeing swift progress in the last few months, we hit upon a few of the most recent developments impacting telehealth regulations across the country.
Texas Bill Opens Market to Telemedicine Providers
In early May, Texas’ House of Representatives passed a bill that seeks to open up the state, and subsequently 28 million people, to telehealth technologies. The state was previously seen as one of the last hurdles preventing nationwide telemedicine adoption.
“To date Texas has lagged behind the rest of the country in establishing a supportive regulatory environment for the expansion of telemedicine, a proven delivery model for increasing access to care — especially for rural Texas — and providing a less costly alternative to visiting emergency rooms for non-emergency conditions,” said Jamie Dudensing, CEO of Texas Association of Health Plans, Forbes reports. “We're one step closer to removing barriers to this important technology.”
Vermont Signs Bill to Keep Telehealth Care Stable
The Vermont State Legislature has recently approved a bill that will expand and further regulate reimbursement for doctor consultations via telehealth tech. The legislation, which will take effect October 1 if, as expected, it’s signed by Gov. Phil Scott, looks to update requirements around how insurance companies reimburse telemedicine visits, as well as keep care costs equal to in-person visits, mHealth Intelligence reports.
“A key factor behind the bill was giving people greater access to specialists in regions where they are scarce,” state Sen. Debbie Ingram told online news outlet VT Digger. “I think everybody thought it was a good way to provide access without raising costs astronomically.”
Washington Expands and Ensures Rural Coverage
Citizens living in rural areas of Washington state will soon have greater access to telemedicine visits, thanks to a bill signed into law May 5. Senate Bill 5436 aims to improve access to basic healthcare services by clarifying the definition of “home” for telemedicine services that qualify for reimbursement by Medicaid and commercial insurers.
The legislation now defines “home” as “any location determined by the individual receiving the service,” according to the Washington State Medical Association, which applauds the move as a step to protect coverage for patients, particularly for those rural and underserved communities.
Ensuring coverage is becoming particularly important for the technology, with a recent Government Accountability Office report spotlighting issues with reimbursement as a main barrier to telehealth use.
“Telemedicine is an important tool for addressing the health care needs of Washington citizens, especially in rural and underserved communities that continue to face a severe shortage of primary care physicians and specialists,” said Jennifer Hanscom, the WSMA’s executive director and CEO, in a written statement. “We must look at multiple solutions, including not only telemedicine but also training more physicians, working to retain our resident physicians in state and making sure that physicians can afford to continue caring for patients.”