Too sick to drag yourself out of bed to see the doctor? Facing a long drive to consult with a specialist? These are perfect situations for using telehealth services, also called telemedicine. Some examples of telemedicine are when health care services are delivered securely through smartphones, computers, and other electronic devices without you needing to leave your home or work for the visit.
Telemedicine can help with everything from typical sick visits to complex consultations with specialists for serious health problems to expanding the availability of behavioral and mental health services. It saves time and money, and it expands everyone’s access to quality health care.
The problem in Pennsylvania is that health insurers are not required to cover care delivered through telemedicine. Some insurers have embraced the practice of telemedicine and provide coverage to subscribers, while others are not as willing to do so. It’s hard for health care providers to invest in the technology required to offer telemedicine services without knowing if insurance companies will pay for it. And patients are confused, too, because they’re not always sure of the specifics in their plans.
Pennsylvania is getting closer to solving the problem, though. In June, the state Senate unanimously approved legislation that requires health insurers to pay for care delivered by telemedicine if they pay for the same care when it is provided in person. The legislation (Senate Bill 780) also sets definitions for what telemedicine is and establishes licensing requirements for practitioners.
Now it’s up to the state House to act on the bill. With only nine scheduled voting days this fall, it’s important that legislators understand how important it is for Pennsylvania to join the 38 states and the District of Columbia in enacting a law to cover telehealth services.
Telemedicine already has made great inroads in expanding access to expert care in our state in stroke care and burn care. There’s no reason to prevent Pennsylvanians from benefiting from telemedicine!