Last week, the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet held a hearing on “Advancing Telehealth through Connectivity.” The hearing explored the need to expand telehealth nationwide, with a particular focus on rural areas.
Several experts lauded the benefits of telehealth, including helping to lower health care costs and improve patient outcomes. However, these experts noted that several regulatory and institutional challenges remain in expanding access including: lack of access to broadband connectivity, barriers to interstate licensing that prevent physicians from serving patients across state lines remotely, and limitations on Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services.
At the hearing, Mississippi Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran announced that they will reintroduce the Telehealth Advancement Act, legislation that will improve telecommunications delivery in Medicare and expand reimbursements.
Meanwhile, as these Senators are seeking to expand access to telehealth services, the Texas Medical Board voted recently to restrict the practice in that State. Earlier this month, the board voted to prohibit physicians from diagnosing a patient or prescribing drugs without an in-person visit. The Board cited patient safety as the primary reason behind the move. However, several observers expect the vote to be challenged in litigation. And the Texas legislature is considering efforts to expand telemedicine in the State, which could overrule the Board decision.
We will continue to monitor these developments and provide updates in the future.