Telemedicine Gaining Traction in States

CAST | March 14, 2017 | by Donna Childress

For the first time, all Medicaid agencies cover some telemedicine; Texas bill introduced to permit telehealth.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) recently released an update to two reports that capture the policy landscape of each state and Washington, DC. Grades for each state identified gaps in telemedicine coverage and reimbursement, and in physician practice standards and licensure.
 
The Coverage and Reimbursement report tracks telemedicine adoption in every state. For the first time since its inception in 2014, the report shows that all Medicaid agencies cover some form of telemedicine. In addition, Medicaid is increasingly covering telemedicine for dental services, substance abuse treatment and counseling, and treatment in homes and schools instead of only in traditional facilities. The number of states that allow coverage of telemedicine has more than doubled in recent years. In 2017, all states allow coverage of telemedicine to some degree, compared to 24 states in 2005.
 
On a state-by-state level, however, the picture is more mixed. Seven states—Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia—have adopted policies that improved coverage and reimbursement of telemedicine-provided services since the 2016 report. On the flip side, Delaware, South Carolina, and Washington, DC, have either lowered telemedicine coverage or adopted policies further restricting telemedicine coverage.
 
“There is promising news overall for patients, providers, and businesses using telemedicine and other digital health platforms,” said Latoya Thomas, Director of the State Policy Resource Center, ATA. “These reports show that insurers, state lawmakers and Medicaid agencies see telemedicine, and other digital health platforms, as affordable and convenient solutions to bridge the provider shortage gap and enhance access to quality health care services.”
 
The second report, the Physician Standards and Licensure report, reviews state laws and medical board standards. Collectively, states are removing unnecessary requirements and embracing telemedicine nationwide. This report indicates increased adoption of telemedicine and increased opportunities for health care practitioners to practice across state lines. Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana have made significant improvements for health providers by changing board guidance and regulation for telemedicine when compared to in-person practice, while Texas continues to earn the lowest grade in the nation.
 
“As federal and state lawmakers reevaluate the current health policy environment, they cannot ignore telemedicine’s potential as a valuable and cost saving tool,” said Gary Capistrant Chief Policy Officer, ATA.
 
Download the State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis Reports.
 
Meanwhile, the Texas medical association has reached an agreement with companies like Teladoc, which provides remote patient care. Teladoc began an imbroglio in April 2015, reported Mobihealthnews, suing the Texas Medical Board when the board passed legislation that was unfriendly to telemedicine. The suit alleged an antitrust violation, saying the board was comprised of practicing doctors who stood to gain financially from the law.
 
In early March, Senator Charles Schwertner submitted Senate Bill 1107, which outlines how providers can use telehealth platforms to establish doctor-patient relationships, Mobihealthnews reported. Doctors and patients are not required to meet in person before initiating the relationship. They can begin with audio visits, as long as the doctor has the patient's medical records or images. The bill also stipulates that telemedicine cannot be used to prescribe drugs that would induce abortions.

If you are in the process of adopting a telehealth system, be sure to check out the CAST Telehealth/RPM Selection Tool. The tool includes a comprehensive portfolio of hands-on resources that help providers understand, plan for, select, implement, and adopt the appropriate technology while advocating for innovative care models. The white paper included in the tool also reviews potential business models and payment streams, and it even points to an online return on investment (ROI) calculator.