Pandemic Prompted Expanded Telemedicine Use, Bill Expands Care And Codifies Pay Parity

By B. Hamilton

During the first months of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, the use of telehealth increased significantly. In fact, overall, almost half of the people who were undergoing treatment when the pandemic shutdown began reported using some form of telemedicine.

From a new RAND Corporation study, those findings make the news of Governor Doug Ducey’s decision to sign telemedicine legislation all the more welcome to individuals still hesitant to venture out.

House Bill 2454, sponsored by Rep. Regina Cobb, will make telemedicine services provided to Arizonans through the Governor’s Executive Order last March permanent. The governor’s order required health care insurance companies to expand telemedicine coverage for all services that would normally be covered for an in-person visit.

The bill expands access to telemedicine for patients and ensures that doctors receive equal compensation from insurance companies for telemedicine services and allows out-of-state health care professionals to provide telemedicine in Arizona.

“Telehealth was an extremely valuable tool during the pandemic,” said Cobb. “It’s helped Arizonans get in contact with health care providers, mental health specialists, speech therapists, and more from the safety of their home. HB 2454 will continue those efforts and ensure that those living in Arizona receive medical service in a safe and convenient manner.”

According to findings published in the Journal of General, between mid-March and early May 2020, telehealth was used by more than 40% of patients with a chronic physical health condition and by more than 50% of those with a behavioral health condition, according to findings published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Under the bill, medical examinations in the worker’s compensation space can also be conducted via telehealth if all parties consent. It also prohibits healthcare boards from enforcing any rule that requires a patient to visit in-person before being prescribed most medications.

“HB 2454 is a win for physicians and patients alike,” said Arizona Medical Association President Dr. Miriam Anand. “Every patient deserves access to the appropriate care needed to treat their medical conditions. HB 2454 will break down unnecessary barriers to telehealth and help facilitate the delivery of high-quality care to patients across Arizona.”

HB 2454 also requires medical insurers to provide payment parity for telehealth services using audio and visual features and allows health care providers who are licensed in other states to provide telehealth services into Arizona under certain conditions.

According to the JLBC, “the bill establishes the Telehealth Advisory Committee on Telehealth Best Practices which would be tasked with recommending other health care service that may be appropriately provided through an audio-only telehealth format. These services would be covered services starting January 1, 2022 but would not require payment parity.”

The bill does not apply to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) but does require health insurers to cover audio-only health care services if those services are covered by AHCCCS or Medicare.