Twenty percent of Americans live in areas where there are shortages of physicians, according to a policy brief in Health Affairs. Some analysts believe the answer to this problem is telehealth, which they say could also save the healthcare industry some $4.28 billion annually.
While the Affordable Care Act signaled a move toward telehealth development at the federal level (through Medicare), states still largely govern coverage of telehealth services by Medicaid or private insurers.
“Currently there is no uniform legal approach to telehealth, and this continues to be a major challenge in its provision. In particular, concerns about reimbursements, for both private insurers and public programs such as Medicaid, continue to limit the implementation and use of telehealth services,” according to the brief.
Now, Congress is considering the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act, intended to modernize the way Medicare reimburses telehealth services and to expand locations and coverage. To enjoy the benefits of telehealth services, states are likely to move toward full-parity laws for the services, the brief notes.
“Without parity, there are limited incentives for the development of telehealth or for providers to move toward telehealth services,” according to the brief. “If there are no incentives to use telehealth, then providers will continue to focus on in-person care, which will keep healthcare costs high, continue to create access issues, and possibly provide lesser standards of care for chronic disease patients who benefit from remote monitoring.”
1. Yang T. Telehealth parity laws. Health Affairs Website. Accessed October 17, 2016.