ATA says states' telemedicine progress a mixed bag

A handful of states have made progress when it comes to integrating new policies that make it easier for physicians to practice telemedicine and provide broader coverage for patients, but much of the country remains stagnant when it comes to advancing such regulations. 

The result has been “a mix of strides and stagnation” in telemedicine policies across the country in 2016, according to two new reports from the American Telemedicine Association (ATA).The reports issued letter grades for each state and Washington, D.C., based on how their laws facilitate access to telemedicine services.

Just three states—Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas—saw their grade improve when it came to physician practice standards and licensure, according to (PDF) the ATA’s report. Both Florida and Louisiana altered policies to allow out-of-state providers to practice telemedicine, while Arkansas adopted a new law that qualifies audio-video communication as a patient-physician relationship.

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Texas received the lowest composite grade for physician practice standards and licensure. The state has been in the midst of a longstanding battle over telemedicine legislation, but this week the Houston Chronicle reported that two opposing groups appear to have reached a compromise, which could pave the way to a new bill.

Meanwhile, seven states expanded telemedicine coverage and reimbursement policies, according to a second ATA report (PDF). Several of those states cover telemedicine services for chronic disease management, and many others are covering dentistry, substance abuse and behavioral health services.

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The association notes that since it began reporting on state policies in 2014, all 50 states have initiated some level of telemedicine coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries, although coverage varies widely from state to state. Thirty-one states have enacted telemedicine parity laws since 2014.

“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, ATA’s chief policy officer, in a release.

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The ATA reported similar trends last year, noting that telemedicine policies varied widely among states. A recent survey by the Federation of State Medical Boards indicated that most state boards see regulations tied to remote care as a top priority, particularly as more consumers are gravitating toward video-based telemedicine services and providers are showing increased interest in remote care.