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Georgia Senate OKs Out-of-State Telemedicine, Telehealth Parity

Two bills approved this week by Georgia's senate would enable out-of-state providers to practice telemedicine in Georgia and set guidelines for payer coverage of telehealth services.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Georgia lawmakers are pushing forward with a pair of telemedicine bills that would enable providers in other states to deliver virtual care in the state, while mandating that payers cover telehealth services at the same rate as in-person services.

Both bills, SB 115 and SB 118, passed unanimously in the Georgia Senate this week.

SB 115 gives healthcare providers in other states permission to treat Georgia residents as long as those providers meet all applicable state telemedicine and telehealth laws. It opens the door to multi-state healthcare networks, direct-to-consumer telehealth companies and specialty consults. It would also limit those providers to telemedicine and ban in-person care.

SB 118 is more complex, offering new definitions for both telehealth and telemedicine as well as setting guidelines for payer coverage.

First, the bill would amend existing laws to establish the originating site for a telehealth service as “a site in this state at which a patient is located at the time health care services are provided to him or her by means of telemedicine or telehealth,” thus enabling virtual care services delivered to the home, office or retail location.

It then redefines telehealth and telemedicine to include asynchronous (store-and-forward) services as well as remote patient monitoring – two forms of virtual care now recognized by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for some reimbursement.

Telehealth would be defined as “the use of information and communications technologies, including, but not limited to, telephones, remote patient monitoring devices or other electronic means which support clinical health care, provider consultation, patient and professional health related education, public health, and health administration.”

Telemedicine, meanwhile, would be defined as “a form of telehealth which is the delivery of clinical health care services by means of real time two-way audio, visual, or other telecommunications or electronic communications, including the application of secure video conferencing or store and forward transfer technology to provide or support health care delivery, which facilitate the assessment, diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of a patient's health care by a health care provider practicing within his or her scope of practice as would be practiced  in-person with a patient, and legally allowed to practice in this state, while such patient is at an originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site.”

The bill then goes on to address payment parity.

Under the proposed legislation, payers would be required to cover telehealth and telemedicine services “on the same basis and at least at the rate that the insurer is responsible for coverage for the provision of the same service through in-person consultation or contact.” It would also ban annual or lifetime caps on reimbursement, prevent insurers from requiring someone to use a connected care platform instead of in-person care, and also prevent insurers from excluding telehealth coverage because that service is not also provided in person.

Georgia is one of dozens of states moving to amend existing telehealth and telemedicine regulations or pass new guidelines, often to expand services or coverage or better regulate how those services are delivered.

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