Telehealth Updates in Washington, Georgia, and Florida

As we’ve discussed, payment parity for telemedicine services is the issue de jour this legislative session, and we wanted to provide you with a brief rundown of some of this month’s activity related to it. The following is a synopsis of telemedicine bills in Washington, Georgia, and Florida.

Washington Senate Bill 5385, which required telemedicine services to be reimbursed at the same rate as in-person services, passed out of the Senate Committee on Health & Long Term Care on February 22 with modifications. ERIC submitted testimony on the bill prior to the Committee’s hearing, and we pointed out the ways that telemedicine can save money in the health care system and asked that the payment parity language be removed. The Committee was somewhat receptive and added an exception that provides, “Hospitals, hospital systems, telemedicine companies, and provider groups consisting of eleven or more providers may negotiate and agree to a reimbursement rate for telemedicine services that differs from the reimbursement rate for in-person services.” While payment parity was not entirely removed, this provision at least allows negotiation between the provider and insurer for reimbursement rates for a large portion of telemedicine interactions. The bill now moves on to the Rules Committee.

In Georgia, Senate Bill 118 would rename the Georgia Telemedicine Act to the Georgia Telehealth Act and broaden the scope of telehealth within the state. The new definition for telemedicine is much more technology-neutral in that it would include not only two-way audio/video communications, but also store and forward technology and “other telecommunications or electronic communications.” The downside of the bill is that it contains payment parity language, which, as described in our Washington testimony, prevents the cost savings potential of telemedicine from becoming a reality. ERIC will weigh in when the opportunity arises to combat the payment parity language and encourage the technology neutral provisions.

Finally, on February 21, House Bill 23 was filed in the Florida House of Representatives and would provide for telehealth in the state. You may recall that in October 2017, ERIC submitted comments to the Florida Telehealth Advisory Council prior to its report to the state legislature. We are pleased that some of our suggestions made it into this proposed legislation. Specifically, the same standard of care as required for in-person services is required for telehealth services, an initial in-person examination is not required before utilizing telehealth services, and the definition of telehealth is technology-neutral. Additionally, it does not contain any originating site requirements, which require patients to visit certain locations to access telehealth services, and it provides for interstate practice of telehealth for health care professionals. The only critique of this bill from our perspective is that it does not address reimbursement rates, so our focus will be working to ensure that payment parity language is not added to this bill.

As always, if any of these bills are of particular interest to you and you would like us to connect with your government affairs staff in that state, please let me know.

Article by Adam Greathouse, Health Care Policy Senior Associate