Telehealth 'parity' continues to make inroads via state legislation

Individual states continue to press forward with telehealth legislation, as evidenced by recent news out of Montana and a forthcoming effort in Florida.

In Montana, providers now are eligible to collect reimbursement money for telehealth services that mirror in-person services after a parity law went into effect, EHR Intelligence reported. The law, which became official on Jan. 1, states that telehealth coverage "must be equivalent to the coverage for services that are provided in person by a healthcare provider or healthcare facility."

"We are a unique state because we are so rural," Sen. Edward Buttrey (R-Great Falls) said after the bill was signed into law last spring. "People in the rural and remote corners of the state deserve to get quick, safe, adequate care and be reimbursed as if they were face-to-face with the physician."

The Billings Gazette praised the new law in an editorial published last week. "This parity law will be especially beneficial to folks in rural Montana," it said. "Telemedicine bridges the distance between patients and medical specialists."

Meanwhile in Florida, Rep. Travis Cummings (R-Orange Park) is expected to file similar legislation this week that also addresses parity between telemedicine and face-to-face visits, The Florida Current reported.

A bill introduced to Congress last month--the Telehealth Modernization Act--seeks to establish a federal definition of telehealth and clear up the confusion from myriad state policies.

"Telehealth is a major contributing factor to increased health care quality, convenience, and lower costs," said Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who introduced the Telehealth Modernization Act. "However, there currently are 50 separate sets of rules as to what type of care can be provided. This often leaves both providers and patients in a state of uncertainty."

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last month announced that changes to Medicare's 2014 physician fee schedule would incrementally expand coverage for telehealth services.

In addition, the TELEhealth for MEDicare (TELE-MED) Act of 2013, also introduced in the House last fall, would allow Medicare providers to treat patients electronically across state lines without having to obtain multiple state medical licenses.

To learn more:
- read the EHR Intelligence article
- here's the Montana law (.pdf)
- check out the Billings Gazette editorial
- here's the Florida Current article

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