A national organization representing large employers is throwing its weight behind state efforts to expand and regulate telehealth – and that’s not an easy task, says its chief health executive.
The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that advocates for employee benefit and compensation benefits for the nation’s largest employers, recently sent a letter to Wisconsin’s Medical Examining Board supporting its proposed telehealth regulations. The letter is part of ERIC’s national effort to support legislation that improves employee access to healthcare.
“It’s an important issue for large employers,” says Allison Wils, ERIC’s director of health policy, who’s trying to keep tabs on every state’s actions to regulate telehealth. And with each state approaching legislation from a different angle, that means 50 different missions to pursue.
Billed as “the only national trade association advocating solely for the employee benefit and compensation interest of the country’s largest employers,” ERIC’s – and Wils’ – challenge is to support a certain amount of consistency amid the patchwork of state efforts. That’s crucial when one stops to consider that most of the corporations represented by ERIC have offices and employees in several states.
On another level, ERIC’s efforts support healthcare providers who want to expand and improve efforts to care for consumers wherever they’re located and whenever they need care. That might mean working with a large employer to create a telehealth program or developing platforms that extend to clinics, medical offices and other locations.
“Our members need consistent telehealth policies around the country so that their workers and their families can enjoy the same company benefits regardless of the state in which they live or work,” the association states in its telehealth policy. “It is imperative that funds to pay benefits are maximized and not diverted to complying with a myriad of disparate and potentially conflicting state rules and regulations. To achieve this goal, ERIC is striving to promote uniformity of telehealth rules around the country and to remove barriers that impede the efficient and effective delivery of healthcare.”
Wils, who sees Wisconsin’s efforts as a model for other states, says ERIC’s platform focuses on five recommendations:
- Be technology-neutral, so that a telehealth platform can adopt whatever tools it needs to maintain a consistent standards of care;
- Enable inter-state telehealth so that providers – no matter where they’re located – can deliver care to that state’s residents;
- Don’t restrict telehealth to specific sites or regions, so that residents can access care wherever they’re located;
- Avoid excessive requirements or regulations, especially anything that isn’t required of in-person visits; and
- “Consider the needs of patients to have better access to care that can be provided via telemedicine, either through a telemedicine visit or remote monitoring of health conditions.”
ERIC’s goal, Wils says, is to advocate for “uniform, barrier-free access to telehealth.” That can be tricky in states like Texas, where telehealth programs in schools, health systems and even prisons are nationally recognized, while the state’s medical board is locked in a controversial court battle with Teladoc over appropriate standards for first telehealth interaction between a doctor and patient.
“Some states are really complex,” she says. “We respect that (each has) a unique purview.”
So that means keeping tabs on recent or ongoing legislation or bills in Wisconsin, Delaware, Idaho, California and Washington, watching Massachusetts’ efforts to create a telehealth coalition, and looking at long-term efforts in New Jersey, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Indiana.