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Washington May Let Consumers Choose Their Telemedicine Site

State lawmakers are proposing new telehealth legislation that would, among other things, enable the patient to choose the 'originating site' for a telemedicine session. Some states have restricted that site to healthcare facilities.

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- Washington lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would, among other things, give the consumer the freedom to choose where to access telemedicine services.

In 2015, the state established healthcare locations – hospitals, medical offices, clinics, health centers skilled nursing facilities and renal dialysis centers – as appropriate locations for telemedicine, then expanded that list to include the consumer’s home in 2016. The latest bill, SB 5436, would expand that even further to include “any location determined by the individual receiving the service.”

“As long as it doesn’t compromise patient safety or the quality of care, patients should have the widest access possible to telemedicine. Mental-health patients, for example, should be able to get help through telemedicine at a site where they feel safe,” State Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, one of four sponsors of this and a second telemedicine bill, told State of Reform.

The second bill, SB 5457, would establish payment parity for regulated health insurance carriers, state employee health plans and Medicaid managed care plans.

“My goal is to get the best care to the patient in a location that works for the them. Doctors should be paid for services via telemedicine just like services received in an office,” Becker said of that bill.

Joining Becker as co-sponsors to both bills are three Democratic senators, Annette Cleveland of Vancouver, David Frockt of Seattle and Karen Keiser of Des Moines.

Washington is one of several states making headway with telemedicine-related legislation over the past few months. Michigan got the ball rolling in December with a new law that gives healthcare providers more leeway to use telemedicine and telehealth, but also requires that they get a patient’s permission before using the technology.

“Telehealth could transform healthcare in Michigan,” State Sen. MacGregor, the bill’s sponsor, said after its passage in both the House and Senate. “It allows healthcare professionals to extend their reach beyond a corner office to meet patients where they are. It enhances access to and use of healthcare in our state, reduces costs, encourages competition and, most importantly, could lead to healthier lives.”

More recently, Arkansas legislators are pushing forward with amendments to that state’s telemedicine legislation that would, like Washington’s bill, expand the permitted “originating sites” for telemedicine to include wherever the patient is located. But the bill would also require that school-based telehealth programs get permission from a child’s primary care physician before the child can be treated.

In Utah, a bill making its way through the Legislature would improve reimbursement models for healthcare providers using telemedicine, but it would also prohibit providers from using the platform to diagnose and virtually administer abortion-causing medications.

And in Texas, lawmakers have reportedly crafted a new piece of legislation that would, if passed, ease the years-long standoff between the Texas Medical Board and physicians’ groups and telehealth advocates over the definition of the doctor-patient relationship. While the bill hasn’t yet been presented, news reports say it could enable healthcare providers to establish that relationship via telehealth technology, rather than in-person.

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