What Effective Telehealth Legislation Looks Like
A Prime Example of the Future of Telehealth Legislation
States around the country are creating new legislation to increase access to telehealth services, but one state is going above and beyond when it comes to enacting meaningful change within the healthcare system. Kentucky is in the process of crafting a new bill that would not only strengthen the state’s existing telehealth legislation, it would also create a cabinet-level department committee that would be responsible for overseeing and supporting all connected health programs, namely telehealth.
In the absence of national telehealth legislation, many states have had to fill in the gaps when it comes to crafting effective legislation. Other states can look to Kentucky’s Senate Bill 123 as a potential template for future legislation. Learn more about this progressive new bill and what it could mean for the future of the telehealth industry.
Kentucky Doubles Down on Telehealth
The Bluegrass state was already considered one of the most progressive and telehealth-friendly states in the country. Back in 2018, Governor Matt Belvin signed SB 112 into law, which changed the official definition of telehealth to include asynchronous (store-and-forward) telemedicine technology. It also allowed the patient’s home to be classified as an originating site for telehealth delivery and created coverage and payment parity for the Medicaid, Medicaid managed care organizations, and commercial health plans.
The law also eliminated the requirement that all new telehealth programs covered by Medicaid and commercial health plans must originate within the commonwealth’s official telehealth network. This gave care providers and facilities the freedom to explore and propose their own telehealth projects.
Now, state legislators are taking their commitment to telehealth one step further. SB 123 just passed the Senate and now moves onto the House where officials expect it to pass. If signed into law, the bill would confirm several recent executive orders related to telehealth, including one that would create a Division of Telehealth Services within the Office of Health Data and Analytics.
According to the language used in the bill, “The division shall provide oversight, guidance, and direction to Medicaid providers delivering care using telehealth. The division shall implement telehealth services and develop standards, guidance, resources, and education to help promote access to healthcare services in the Commonwealth.”
Care providers may need additional support when implementing a telehealth system. This landmark piece of legislation would ensure that state telehealthcare providers can find the help they need as they get these programs off the ground. If they have any questions about billing, reimbursement, or care delivery requirements, they can reach out to the Division of Telehealth Services for information and additional resources.
Healthcare providers will likely feel more at ease knowing the state is doing everything it can to help them weather this transition. Setting up additional services and monitoring virtual care may not come easily to some providers. This new division will help providers meet the needs of their patients while ensuring everyone in the state has access to telehealth services.
Kentucky has long been proactive when it comes to telehealth legislation. As a rural state, many Kentuckians are still trying to recover from the opioid epidemic. In 2017, there were 1,160 reported opioid-involved deaths in Kentucky—a rate of 27.9 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is nearly double the average national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons.
This new legislation will help those struggling with addiction access the care they need, in addition to pain management services, mental health services, and suicide prevention.
A Way Forward for Other States and the Entire U.S.
Other states can look to this legislation as they search for ways to increase patient access to telehealth services. Telehealth can help save lives, reduce the cost of care, and improve patient outcomes, particularly in rural states. Many counties throughout the nation are suffering from a shortage of primary and specialty care providers. Increasing access to telehealth can help providers see more patients without forcing them to make such a long commute.
By creating an additional division of telehealth services, more states could help care providers find the information and resources they need when implementing telehealth programs. It would also ensure care providers have consistent access to reliable telehealth-related information when seeking guidance from state legislators.
Lawmakers are trying to pass a similar bill in Congress. A bill introduced earlier this year would move the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT) away from the purview of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and put it under the direct supervision of the Office of the Health and Human Services Secretary to improve care coordination.
Stay tuned as more states introduce their own bills related to telehealth. We will also follow along with Kentucky as they get this exciting new program off the ground.