Increasing state reimbursement makes telemedicine even easier

Jul 6, 2015 / Telemedicine in the news /
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Telemedicine has been around for decades, but it's only been in recent years that the practice has established a foothold in the day-to-day of mainstream medical practice. While technological development has had a significant hand in this, with modern communication technology such as video conferencing and cloud computing only emerging in the past five years or so, another significant hurdle telemedicine has faced has been financial.

The fact that telemedicine has struggled to garner state reimbursement has been a significant factor in the monetary stumbling block that administrators of smaller or rural facilities may be facing. Fortunately, as telemedicine establishes itself as an integral part of mainstream healthcare in the 21st century, more states appear to be jumping aboard with their reimbursement offerings, which may help to further expand these practices and services. 

Major industry players offer their support

As the benefits of telemedicine become clearer and more extensive, major companies within the healthcare industry have taken on the challenge of lobbying for more involved government regulation and state reimbursement. 

One significant player leading the charge in this regard is the Mayo Clinic. The renowned healthcare center continues to surge ahead as a telemedicine pioneer, even operating its own eICU, which treats upward of 40 patients remotely, according to the Star Tribune. Unfortunately, lack of state reimbursement for telemedicine services means that it will be very difficult for other clinics to follow in Mayo's footsteps. While the well-known medical center is large enough to absorb the costs associated with operating its eICU, this is likely not a reality for smaller independent clinics. 

"The current state of Medicare telemedicine coverage is tentative."

Does change begin with Medicare?

Some within the healthcare industry feel that the best way to effect change on the state reimbursement front is to start with Medicare and similar government-provided insurance services. The bar-setting property that these government insurance options have on the private industry means that Medicare and Medicaid are the most efficient first steps when it comes to lobbying for change.

The current state of telemedicine coverage in the Medicare space is tentative. While the Star Tribune indicated that there are steps being taken to introduce telemedicine-centric legislation to Congress, the progress has been slower than many in the field would like.

Change is coming, however

Despite apparent heel-dragging from policymakers, there have nevertheless been impressive strides made that some are hoping will be a barometer for future legislation decisions. Most recently, Connecticut joined the ranks of the 28 U.S. states that have laws governing telemedicine reimbursement. Under the new legislation, private insurance companies will be required to reimburse telemedicine services at the same rate as they do in-person visits, Lexology reported.

Importantly, the legislation maintains a broad definition of telemedicine services. In fact, the legislation's definition only specifies a few services that are not considered to be telemedicine-related: telephone, facsimile and email communications. This will likely be helpful for smaller clinics that want to move forward with telemedicine without making significant hardware or infrastructure investments, opening services up to a wider range of providers. 

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