States pushing ahead with telehealth-enabling laws, regulations, study finds
- States continue to pass laws and establish regulations expanding the practice of telemedicine, including behavioral telehealth services, an updated analysis by Epstein Becker Green (EBG) shows.
- Over the past year, Arkansas, Hawaii and Maine adopted regulations allowing physicians to evaluate patients using real-time audio and visual telehealth technologies. And the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which promotes harmonized regulatory frameworks, is effective in 22 states.
- Meanwhile, New Jersey enacted a law broadening the definition of “healthcare provider” to enable more types of providers to deliver telehealth care, according to the report — an addendum to EBG’s 2016 nationwide telehealth survey.
The report reflects growing momentum in telehealth, as providers are investing more in such services and states are adjusting laws and regulations to ease the path.
Medicare payments for telehealth increased 28% last year, driven by a rise in the number of providers offering virtual visits to traditional fee-for-service beneficiaries. Payments totaled $28.7 million, up from $22.4 million in 2015. Total telehealth claims also grew, up 33% to 496,396. In April, lawmakers in the Senate introduced bipartisan legislation to expand telehealth services for Medicare patients by encouraging development of new technologies that reduce costs and improve patient health.
Recently, the VA issued a proposed rule that would allow is providers to sidestep state regulations so they can treat patients with telemedicine regardless of the patient's location.
All state Medicaid agencies also cover some form of telehealth services, according to the American Telemedicine Association. However, five states — Idaho, Missouri, New York, North and South Carolina — prohibit use of cell phone video to support telehealth encounters.
Other findings from the EBG update include:
- Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia now have telehealth parity laws for private insurers, up from 29 a year ago.
- Several states, including Alaska, are trying to remove barriers to how doctor-patient relationships can be established and where telehealth services can occur.
- All but two states — Connecticut and Massachusetts — have refined their regulatory frameworks for where telehealth services can be delivered.
- New York implemented telehealth rules that include specific provisions on telepsychiatry services.
Still, only 15% of U.S. physicians think their state is doing a good job on telehealth, according to a SERMO survey published last spring. By contrast, more than eight in 10 rated their state’s telehealth implementation “fair,” “poor” or “very poor.” At the top were Ohio and California, with a 22% and 20% positive rating, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum were New York and New Jersey, deemed “poor” or “very poor” by 59% and 51% of doctors, respectively.