New York enacts telehealth parity law

New York has become the 22nd state to pass legislation requiring that telehealth visits be reimbursed at the same rate as in-person visits.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law last week, which is retroactive to Jan. 1, though it's expected to take a while for insurance companies to update their policies, according to Health Care Law Today.

The law states that deductibles, co-insurance or other conditions for coverage of telemedicine cannot differ from those for in-person visits.

It also differentiates between telemedicine and telehealth. Telemedicine, it says, refers to real time, two-way electronic audiovisual communications, while telehealth can include telephones calls, remote patient monitoring devices or other electronic means of diagnosis, consultation, education and treatment.

Both are covered, though the language leaves it unclear whether new telehealth services will be covered if they're not already reimbursed as in-person services, according to the article.

Empire Blue Cross offers virtual visits to about 3.5 million members through employer health plans, and Independent Health has teamed up with Capital District Physicians Health Plan in order to compete, according to the Albany Business Review.

The landscape for telemedicine is shifting, though reimbursement remains a huge barrier. When the American Telemedicine Association graded state policies last fall, 29 states earned an "F" for coverage and reimbursement standards; only seven states--Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Tennessee and Virginia--earned an "A."

At the same time, a recent study found that a telehealth visit saves about $100 or more compared to the estimated cost for in-person care.

Yet, in the move away from fee-for-service reimbursement, Accountable Care Organizations and other payment models can help to alleviate physician worries about getting paid for telehealth services, according to an article at the American Journal of Managed Care.

Incentives for reducing costs and improving the quality of care should help foster efficient use of telemedicine, according to the authors.

To learn more:
- find the Health Care Law Today article
- read the legislation (.pdf)
- check out the Albany Business Review story