Pennsylvania Lawmaker Aims to Broaden Telehealth Access

“With telemedicine, distance is no longer an impediment to receiving health care services from anywhere in Pennsylvania or across the country,” says State Senator Elder Vogel.

In a time of massive division about the future of healthcare in the United States, telehealth is one of the few agreeable items. The concept of leveraging new technology to make people healthier for lower costs is hard for lawmakers to deny, and nationwide more and more states are defining wider and wider sets of accepted services to ensure patients can utilize them.

This week, Pennsylvania State Senator Elder Vogel introduced one of the state’s most comprehensive telehealth laws to date. Most states have at least a bare minimum definition of telehealth or telemedicine on the books, in addition to often specific policies regarding telehealth concepts like remote monitoring or store and forward. The Center for Connected Health Policy, which tracks and advocates for increased legal recognition of the packages, shows an anemic record for Pennsylvania’s legislature as far as telehealth is concerned.

Vogel’s bill, PA Senate Bill 780, covers a lot of ground on core telehealth tenets, including a thorough definition of “telemedicine” or “telehealth” to be “The delivery of health care services provided through technology to a patient by a health care practitioner who is at a different location.” In that definition, it also encompasses store and forward and remote monitoring of patient data, while excluding “the use of audio-only telephone conversation, voicemail, facsimile, e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging,” and online questionnaires or automated diagnosis programs.

Speaking to Healthcare Analytics News in March, the Center for Connected Health Policy’s Executive Director Mario Gutierrez highlighted the inconsistency of telehealth policy across the states. “There are states like Minnesota, Colorado, California, of course, and even places like Mississippi are doing very innovative things when it comes to telehealth policy. No one state has gotten a corner on the market,” Gutierrez said. He pointed to rural states pushing for better telehealth policy, given the difficulties of getting patients into distant facilities for in-person appointments. Outside of its densely populated southern corners, Pennsylvania certainly meets the definition of a rural state.

Vogel, a Republican representing Lawrence County, north of Pittsburgh, has long advocated for telehealth in his state. He told a local paper that it could be beneficial for those both in urban and in rural areas, particularly those homebound or with chronic illnesses, and that “With telemedicine, distance is no longer an impediment to receiving health care services from anywhere in Pennsylvania or across the country.” His bill would ensure any in-person services typically reimbursed for by insurance would also be covered if conducted remotely.

The efforts in Pennsylvania come the week after the state’s neighbor, New Jersey, just updated its telehealth laws unanimously, and a month after the famously reticent state of Texas became the last to pass a modern telehealth bill.

For more on the topic of national telehealth policy, Mario Gutierrez’s Healthcare Analytics News interview can be read here: Part 1 and Part 2.