PA Lawmakers Need to Expand Telemedicine Access

The people living in rural Pennsylvania represent about 27 percent of our state’s population. That’s about one in four of us Pennsylvanians.

Like everyone, rural Pennsylvanians expect to have, need, and use health care services. But, because of where they live, these Pennsylvanians might have to spend more time and money traveling for their health care than people who live in more populated areas of the state.

As you can imagine, hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers are fewer and farther between in rural areas. That can be especially true when you think about specialists, like pediatric oncologists, who are experts in treating life-threatening diseases and conditions that, fortunately, occur less frequently. By the very nature of the medicine they practice, these specialists are more likely to live and work in Pennsylvania’s cities and suburbs.

What if you live in rural Pennsylvania and you or a member of your family needs one of these specialists? What if you have a chronic disease like diabetes or congestive heart failure—conditions that really improve with frequent checkups and monitoring—but the drive to your health care provider is a long one?

Technology—specifically the use of secure, confidential two-way digital communications like video conferencing—has come to the rescue with an effective and efficient solution. Referred to as telemedicine, or telehealth, this new way of delivering health care can connect providers and patients wherever they are to provide high-quality health care that saves time and money.

Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering new legislation that would expand the use of telemedicine and give more Pennsylvanians, including those in rural areas, access to its benefits. This law, Senate Bill 780:

  • Defines telemedicine
  • Offers guidelines outlining who is able to provide health care services through telemedicine technology
  • Requires all health insurers to provide payment for a health care service delivered via telemedicine if they pay for the same service in person

Right now, many health insurers pay for some telemedicine services. But which telemedicine services are covered can vary from plan to plan. Some health care services provided via telemedicine are not covered, even though the same services provided by health care professionals “in person” would be.

Senate Bill 780 establishes basic ground rules to simplify the situation. If insurers pay for a health care service when provided in person, they are required to pay for that service when it is provided via telemedicine.

The law gives hospitals and health care providers assurances that, if they invest in the technology and training to provide health care services via telemedicine, insurers will cover these services and provide payment to providers.

The Pennsylvania Senate has passed Senate Bill 780. Hospitals, physicians, and AARP are urging the House to do its part and pass the law this year.