Congress Should Penalize States Without Telemedicine Policies, Group Says

The use of telemedicine has many advantages, including improved convenience and lower costs, which could improve healthcare quality by making it easier for patients to connect with a physician for primary care. However, regulatory barriers have made the adoption of telemedicine among the nation's healthcare providers "disappointingly slow," according to a report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, necessitating common definitions and policies regarding telemedicine to reap all of its benefits.

According to the report, just 23 states have a definition of telemedicine that applies to both Medicaid and private insurers, and many states have telemedicine or standards of care policies that discourage the use of telemedicine, such as requirements that physicians meet a patient in-person before treating them remotely with telemedicine. In-state licensing requirements and inequitable reimbursements for telemedicine services are also dissuading physicians from using telemedicine, according to the ITIF.

To remove these barriers, the ITIF is calling on the federal government to create uniform national policies that would allow the healthcare system to benefit from the expanded use of telemedicine. The group supports bills like the The Telehealth Modernization Act, which would both create a federal definition of telehealth as well as provide guidelines for states in developing telehealth governance policies.

"The only thing holding back telehealth right now is outdated rules and regulations," Daniel Castro, senior policy analyst at the ITIF, told The Hill. "Given the high cost of care and lack of access to doctors in many parts of the country, it's imperative that policymakers clear the remaining roadblocks to widespread adoption."

However, the ITIF acknowledges such legislation will give states the option of adopting the telemedicine standards, rather than mandating their adoption. The ITIF therefore recommends the federal government fine states that do not adopt telemedicine-friendly policies.

"While this legislation is an important step, its success will depend upon states voluntarily adopting the standard," according to the report. "If states have not adopted the standards within a reasonable period of time (e.g., two years), Congress may want to impose penalties on the non-adopting states."

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