April 9, 2015, SEATTLE, Wash. — On Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly passed SB 5175, the telemedicine bill. Once signed into law by the Governor, this legislation will ensure that if an insurance plan covers a health service when it’s provided in-person, the same service will be covered if it’s provided using video or audio technology.
This is landmark legislation because currently, there is no state law or regulation governing payment when health care services are delivered via telemedicine. Because of that, some providers have had difficulty getting paid for their services, creating an uncertainty that kept many hospitals and clinics from investing in the technology.
“This is a huge win for patients and a major step forward in the work to make high-quality care accessible to all Washington state communities,” said Scott Bond, president of the Washington State Hospital Association. “Especially when the medical condition makes travel difficult, telemedicine will enable more patients to stay closer to home, while still being able to access specialty care.
“By bringing the specialists to the patients, instead of the other way around, those who are suffering strokes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, psychiatric crisis and other conditions will be able to get expert consultations. The usefulness to rural communities is obvious, but it’s also useful to patients in urban areas. We appreciate the partnership of the major insurers, including Regence and Premera, who spoke in favor of the bill.”
This legislation was also supported by the Washington State Medical Association.
“This is a real win for patients and physicians in Washington,” said Brian Seppi, MD, president of the Washington State Medical Association, which represents nearly 10,000 physicians and physician assistants in the state. “As the state moves forward with integrating behavioral and physical health, we need to ensure that communities have access to needed specialists.
“A recent study shows just 79 psychiatrists providing direct patient care in eastern Washington. With telemedicine our medical community can provide care to patients in rural areas, without forcing patients to drive miles for care. The use of telemedicine using video technology would allow a psychiatrist in Seattle to examine a patient in rural Washington — saving time and providing essential services to these underserved patients.”
Studies show that patients get more appropriate and timely care when telemedicine is used. Telemedicine will help us meet the provider shortage challenge by using clinicians’ time more efficiently. Additionally, the state should save money on transportation costs for Medicaid clients.
How Will Telemedicine Payment Work?
With this bill, insurers that cover a particular service on an in-person basis will cover the same service when it is provided via telemedicine. The legislation doesn’t expand services beyond those normally covered, or change the deductible, co-payment or utilization rules insurers have in place. All major health insurers were either supportive or neutral on the bill.
The Washington State Hospital Association represents all of Washington’s 99 community hospitals. The association takes a major leadership role in issues that affect delivery, quality, accessibility, affordability and continuity of health care. It works to improve the health status of the residents of Washington state. WSHA is online at www.wsha.org.
The Washington State Medical Association represents physicians and physician assistants throughout Washington state. The WSMA’s vision is to make Washington the best place to practice medicine and to receive care. For more information about the WSMA please visit www.wsma.org or contact Susan Callahan at (206) 441-9762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.