Telehealth services will continue to grow in need and urgency even after the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is important that states update their existing laws, according to Peter Kowey, MD, and Thomas Martin, PhD.
In an Aug. 15 op-ed published in Penn Live, Dr. Kowey, cardiovascular research chair at Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, and Dr. Martin, health studies assistant professor at Saint Joseph’s University, explained three reasons why Pennsylvania’s legislators should update their laws.
In April, Senate Bill 857, which would have expanded telehealth was vetoed, “mainly because of extraneous amendments to the bill that would have restricted access to contraception services and certain medications,” Drs. Kowey and Martin wrote. Despite the bill being struck down, it offered several elements that patients and healthcare providers should be aware of and that any revised bill should focus on to improve care across the state.
Three areas of focus in the legislation that would provide high-quality telehealth services for Pennsylvanians, according to Drs. Kowey and Martin:
1. Equal treatment of providers and services for coverage. The bill ensured equal recognition of healthcare providers such as occupational therapists, mental health professionals and speech language pathologists when it comes to telehealth insurance coverage and also places oversight of the quality and types of services provided for patients within professional societies and boards, rather than governmental entities.
2. Recognition of new technologies. The bill recognized and encouraged adoption of new technologies such as wearables, smart watches and pulse oximeters so healthcare providers and patients can better use their time and participate in more efficient treatments.
3. Fair payment for telehealth services. While states such as Delaware and New Jersey have issued payment parity laws that require payers reimburse the healthcare provider the same as an in-person visit, Pennsylvania allows arbitrary pricing structures for telehealth. The bill would have prevented unfair billing practices and protected patients from surprise bills.