Michael Morris, Senior Editor, iTelemedicine

Legislation in support of telemedicine and telehealth has seen a tremendous year of advances. In this last year, 42 states introduced over 200 pieces of legislation related to telemedicine. As of December 2015, 29 states have passed legislation that will require private insurers to reimburse telemedicine services in parity with in-person consultations and services.

Teladoc, Inc., the nation’s largest telehealth provider, is the only private corporation actively involved in advocating the telemedicine agenda with policy makers.

“In 2015 we saw success far greater than we anticipated. It has been a whirlwind,” Claudia Tucker, Vice President of Government Affairs for Teladoc, said. “As we look at the states, we have found that they have started to realize that telemedicine is not just a healthcare issue, but it’s an economic issue as well.”

Lobbying has played an important role in educating and influencing policy makers. ATA’s Fall Forum National Telehealth Lobby Day helped raise awareness in the business sector for private companies to become involved in lobbying efforts.

“Lobbying is the best way that I know of to ensure that policy-makers understand the innovations and the technology,” Tucker shared. “The policy makers are there for a short time. They have upwards to 2,000 to 3,000 bills to consider. They can’t be experts in everything.”

And that’s how a lobbyist can help – through educating politicians about both sides of the story. Lawmakers need all the information they can get in order to make an informed decision when they cast their ballots. And she says it’s up to their teams to be good stewards of information by simply talking with legislators.

Some states of particular interest are Tennessee and Mississippi. Tucker indicated that the Tennessee assembly recently passed a progressive telemedicine bill without a single nay vote.

In addition, a “perfect telemedicine storm” might be brewing in Mississippi, according to Kelly Rice, Director of Communications for SnapMD, a cloud-based telemedicine platform with HIPAA-compliant encrypted video, audio, and messaging.

“Telemedicine champion Governor Phil Bryant has enacted some of the most comprehensive legislation in the U.S.,” Rice said. “TeleHealthONE, LLC, Mississippi’s pioneering, private telemedicine company, has partnered with SnapMD to deliver healthcare for underserved populations in the state, no matter where they live.”

Further, she explained that the groundbreaking legislation includes Governor Bryant’ Mississippi Healthcare Industry Zone Act (House Bill 1537), created to promote the growth of the healthcare industry, expand access to high-quality medical care for Mississippi residents, and increase the number of healthcare jobs in the state. The legislation created a business incentive program, known as the Mississippi Healthcare Industry Zone Incentive Program, to encourage healthcare-related businesses to locate or expand within a qualified Healthcare Zone in the state.

So where is telemedicine legislation headed in 2016? Teladoc’s Claudia Tucker explained that while telemedicine is widely accepted and used in more complex medical situations, the focus should be shifted to telemedicine use in simple, non-emergent, non-life-threatening circumstances – the kind that keep people out of work.

In the coming year we will see more of the same with movement at the state level. Tucker sees three categories of states:

  • States that want to adopt progressive telemedicine policies.
  • States that don’t’ have anything on the books so they are starting from scratch.
  • States that have outdated telemedicine legislation because they have not factored in the recent developments of the day.

Developments pushing the legislative landscape will be primarily in behavioral health. Mental health issues are at the front of every legislator’s mind, as they look at the number of psychiatric professionals declining and the impact of behavioral health on overall population health.

Challenges In 2016
Wide-scale access to broadband services is still the elephant in the room for telemedicine. Asynchronous telemedicine services are at the top of the legislative agenda. Fifty-five million Americans still don’t have access to broadband services. So if state legislators decide that a patient can only access telemedicine through real-time audio/video, they have disenfranchised a large portion of their constituency.

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