Reimbursement for telehealth services remains sparse

Despite backing from the American Medical Association and some insurance companies, nearly 30 states don't allow reimbursement for telemedicine, according to an article in USA Today.

Advocates, such as the American Telemedicine Association, stress that the practice of video consultation could ease the physician shortage, be more convenient for patients in remote areas and provide specialist consultations for heart attack and stroke victims who don't live near emergency centers.

Yet state legislatures and medical boards are reluctant to allow physicians to treat patients they've never met--and likely will never see again. They worry that patients won't receive appropriate follow-up care.

The AMA's telemedicine policy emphasizes in-state licensure and a "valid patient-physician relationship." It's similar to the model policy adopted in April by the Federation of State Medical Boards. 

Advocates for telemedicine "paint a picture of a poor patient out in the middle of nowhere hundreds of miles from the closest medical professional," Kevin O'Dwyer, attorney for the Arkansas Medical Board, says in the article. However, his state's only specialist shortage is in psychiatry, he says.

Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas have the most restrictive laws when it comes to telehealth, according to the ATA. At the same time, the AMA estimates that more than half of states will try to add or upgrade their laws next year.

Organizations including Baptist Health South Florida, the Florida Hospital Association and Associated Industries of Florida are setting up a push to expand telemedicine access in the Sunshine State. In addition, the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, in an editorial, urged the state Legislature to "approve a measure that provides safe and smart remote medical care, while establishing incentives to encourage insurers to reimburse health care providers for telehealth services."

Federal legislation has already expanded telehealth reimbursement for veterans and Medicare beneficiaries.

A bill introduced in the U.S. House this fall would boost Accountable Care Organizations' flexibility to use telehealth and remote patient monitoring and would provide reimbursement for those services equal to that of a home health visit.

To learn more:
- read the article