Op-ed: Telemedicine Bill Will Improve Healthcare Access and Help Lower Costs
September 28, 2018
By Andy Carter, president and CEO of The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, and Bill Johnston-Walsh, State Director of AARP Pennsylvania
Any time a family member gets sick, it’s only natural that we want to find the best options to figure out what’s wrong and help them get the care they need.
As technology advances, families have more options to receive care—not just in the office of a physician or other provider. Thanks to telemedicine, patients can use their phones, tablets, laptops, and connected medical devices for everything from virtual medical appointments for non-urgent symptoms to complex home monitoring that allows care providers to continuously review vital signs of patients with chronic conditions.
Health care providers in many areas across the Commonwealth are even using telemedicine technologies for high-demand specialty services, such as telestroke and teledermatology. And, as our state works to address the opioid epidemic, telepsychiatry is helping substance use disorder patients access behavioral health services right from their treatment facilities.
While the health care community is certainly embracing advances in telemedicine technologies, Pennsylvania law does not require private health insurers to offer coverage for telemedicine-provided services comparable to that of in-person services. Currently there is legislation being considered in the state House of Representatives that would help the insurance system keep pace with the technological advances in health care.
Senate Bill 780 passed the state Senate unanimously back in June and defines the key components of telemedicine, sets licensing requirements, and mandates that health insurers provide payment for telehealth services if they pay for the same service in person. Right now, insurance contracts vary by company, with some insurers willing to pay for some telemedicine services, but not others.
Make no mistake, consumers want telemedicine. A recent AARP study shows 80% of Pennsylvania registered voters age 45+ support legislation that would expand access to telemedicine services. And the American Telemedicine Association reports that 38 other states and the District of Columbia have already passed similar laws.
Broad adoption of telemedicine technologies will significantly increase access to health care services for those patients without a source of transportation, as well as help address provider and appointment shortages in rural, urban, and suburban areas across the state.
In addition to health care consumers, Pennsylvania’s 1.65 million family caregivers will also benefit from an increased use of telemedicine technology. Working and long-distance caregivers can virtually join their loved ones’ medical visits, and reduce the frequency with which they must provide transportation to health care appointments. In fact AARP research shows 1 in 10 family caregivers in Pennsylvania drive more than an hour to get their loved one to a doctor’s for specialty care.
One of the best arguments for expanding the use of telemedicine is the potential to reduce health care costs. Numerous national studies have shown that telemedicine increases efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays. A recent one year case study at a skilled nursing facility reported by the American Telemedicine Association showed 29 percent of the patients evaluated after hours by a doctor using telemedicine were able to avoid a hospital visit, with an estimated Medicare savings of $1.55 million.
A vote for Senate Bill 780 is a vote to help Pennsylvania’s patients and families get more access to the right care in the right place at the right time. It will ensures that the insurance community treats telemedicine services the same as in-person services, reduce health care costs, and help providers better collaborate to deliver more care at home or in the community—which is what patients want.
That’s why Pennsylvania’s hospital community, along with AARP Pennsylvania and its 1.8 million members have joined forces with more than 20 health care provider organizations statewide to support Senate Bill 780. We encourage our state House of Representatives to approve the bill and send it to the Governor for his signature before the end of this year’s legislative session.