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Policy News

Telehealth Legislation Debated Across the Country

By Ryan Mcaskill

There are a number of debates happening in state government and courtrooms that will impact the future of telehealth.

Earlier this week, we reported on a federal push to expand healthcare technology include telehealth strategies. On a state level, there are a number of debates happening with telehealth at the center. Florida is in the process of pushing through a bill; that will improve reimbursement of telehealth services through Medicaid.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to telehealth policy battles happening around the country.

Texas lawsuit

The Texas Medical Board and Teladoc, a company that provides a network of doctors via the telephone, are in the middle of a battle over the definition of the term “telehealth visit.” The medical board approved an “emergency rule” on February 12, 2015 that telephone interactions would not be allowed as the first meeting between a doctor or patient. Instead video or face-to-face interaction would be required for reimbursement to start.

These two organizations have been on opposite sides of the telehealth debate since 2011, when the medical board argued that Teladoc was not allowed to prescribe medication via the phone. Teladoc countered by saying in-person consultations were not required to prescribe medication. In 2013, a temporary restraining order was granted to Teladoc, but an appeal was rejected on December 31, 2014. That caused the emergency rule to be enacted.

Now, Teladoc alleges that the rule is a violation of the Texas Administrative Procedure Act and is creating a “bogus” emergency.

Expanding telehealth reimbursement

A number of states are in the process of improving the reimbursement rates of telehealth.These bills are all slightly different and in various parts of the bill passing process.

New York - Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill last month into law that expands the availability of telehealth services and requires insurers to cover costs. Assemblywoman Addie Russell sponsored the bill and spoke at the news conference to announce its signing. She called it a “landmark bill” that helps expand the availability by ensuring services are reimbursed.

“Essentially it’s now been put into law that health insurance can recognize a different kind of treatment using technology most of our community members are familiar and comfortable with and make sure it applicable to our health care providers,” Russell said.

Idaho - The Idaho House of Representatives is debating a bill that would increase the use of telehealth services. It would better define the provider/patient relationship and make an interaction through audio-visual means the same as one held in-person. It also sets a standard for filling out prescriptions remotely.

The bill is in the amending order, so it is possible that changes could still be made.

Oregon - The Oregon Senate is debating a new bill that would increase the insurance coverage for telehealth services. The current state law only allows telehealth systems to be covered if they take place within a medical facility, like receiving a consult from a doctor at another hospital. The new law would allow consults to happen while the patient it basically anywhere.


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