PA-ACP Praises State Senate Committee for Advancing Telemedicine Legislation

The PA-ACP this week praised the State Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for unanimously approving legislation (SB 705) sponsored by Beaver County Sen. Elder Vogel that mandates insurers reimburse physicians and other health care providers for telehealth visits.

Larry Jones, MD, FACP, Eastern PA Governor and President of PA-ACP Services, Inc. called the action “ a major step forward in our efforts to provide the highest quality health care and access to care for all Pennsylvanians.”

“PA-ACP will continue to advocate and lobby for use of telemedicine with both new and established patients, and for parity in reimbursements to practitioners for those services, a program accepted by CMS, and the state’s oversight agencies for Medicaid and the CHIP program.  PA-ACP recognized that telehealth care is critical to maintaining and protecting our patients’ health, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but on an ongoing basis,” he said.

In considering the bill, Sen. Vogel told the committee, “Telemedicine has become a fundamental piece of our health care system and its time to ensure it stays in place.”  Sen. Daniel Laughlin of Erie noted that “Telemedicine has been a silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, and led to a giant leap forward in patient care.”  Sen. Sharif Street, the Democratic chair of the Committee from Philadelphia, said, “It’s clear that this is the time to advance telemedicine has come.  COVID-19 shed even greater light on why this is important.”

PA-ACP has worked with Vogel, legislators, medical organizations, hospitals and health care systems for the last six years to secure passage of telehealth legislation, and the Senate has passed telemedicine bills three times, in 2018, 2019 and 2020.  The House passed a bill last fall, but inserted language that prohibited prescription of abortion pills and REMS list drug via telehealth, which resulted in a veto by Governor Wolf, who cited interference in women’s health care and decision making between physicians and patients.

As passed by the Senate Committee, SB 705 defines telemedicine, to include physical health, behavioral health and substance abuse related services, it outlines who can provide health care services through telemedicine, requires health insurers to provide reimbursement for telemedicine services if they pay for the same services in person, but does not establish equity in payments via government fiat, instead establishing that payments be established between the provider and the individual insurer.

PA-ACP supports payment equity for telehealth services, and a definition that includes video visits, telephone visits and remote patient monitoring and counseling.  The benefits are clear: elimination of long waits for appointments, accommodation for those who have to travel significant distances to see specialists, saving lives when seconds matter, increased choice of providers, addressing physician and specialist shortages, and increased access to health care, home and community-based services, and counseling/treatment for substance use disorders.  In other words, improved access to quality health care.