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Gov. Shapiro Signs Telemedicine Bill into Law, Expanding Access to Health Care, Especially in Rural Communities

by Office of Governor Josh Shapiro

On Wednesday, July 3, Governor Josh Shapiro joined prime sponsor Senator Elder Vogel and bipartisan leaders from the General Assembly to sign SB 739 into law, expanding access to telemedicine services for residents across the Commonwealth by requiring health insurers and managed care plans to pay for covered health care services provided through telemedicine.

Governor Shapiro knows that too many Pennsylvanians are worried about the high cost of health care – and the Commonwealth is currently facing a health care crisis as hospitals close in rural communities. By requiring expanded insurance coverage for telemedicine, SB 739 will help to make health care more accessible and affordable for Pennsylvanians in rural communities and across the Commonwealth.

“Every Pennsylvanian deserves to have access to quality, affordable health care when and where they need it – and it shouldn’t be up to an insurance company to pick and choose what they cover,” said Governor Josh Shapiro. “More and more Pennsylvanians are relying on telemedicine to see their doctors, and this bill requires insurers to cover services delivered via telemedicine the same way they cover traditional in-person services.  My Administration will continue to work across party lines to expand access to health care for all Pennsylvanians, including those in our rural communities.”

As a result of SB 739, if a commercial health insurer provides coverage for a health care service that is performed in person, it now must also cover that same service via telemedicine as long as the required standard of care is met. SB 739 also sets telehealth accessibility standards for Medicaid (also known as Medical Assistance in Pennsylvania) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Access to affordable health care is an issue that disproportionately impacts our rural communities as we face a crisis in rural health care across the Commonwealth, with more than 30 rural hospitals in Pennsylvania reducing services or closing completely in the past 20 years. Telemedicine services allow many Pennsylvanians who may otherwise not be able to receive these services to reach their health care providers and specialists.

SB 739 prime sponsor, Senator Vogel, and a bipartisan group of General Assembly leaders have been advocating for its passage for years to expand access across the Commonwealth.

“This is a remarkable milestone for Pennsylvania that has been a decade in the making,” said Senator Elder Vogel. “This law lays the framework for telemedicine access in our Commonwealth – an avenue of health care our residents will now be able to explore and utilize for their benefit. I appreciate the support of my colleagues, Gov. Josh Shapiro, our health care providers, and other critical stakeholders who helped make this law a reality.”

“I’ve advocated for and, as chair of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee for four years, been directly involved in negotiations to arrive at Senate Bill 739 that Gov. Shapiro is signing today,” said Senator John DiSanto, Republican Chairman of the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee. “While telemedicine has been offered in Pennsylvania for many years now and insurers are largely covering it, this legislation will finally bring a statutory framework and legal clarity to the provision of and insurance coverage for these critical medical services when an in-person consultation isn’t essential, ensuring that the convenience and cost-efficiency of telemedicine will continue for patients.”

“I’ve been honored to work with my colleagues across the aisle to usher this critical legislation through the Senate,” said Senator Sharif Street, Democratic Chairman of the Banking & Insurance Committee. “Expanding Telemedicine meets the diverse needs of Pennsylvanians and protects the most vulnerable in our communities. Ensuring its coverage expands healthcare access and affordability across our Commonwealth.”

“I was proud to play a role as the House Insurance Chair by moving this bill out of my committee and to the House floor for a vote,” said Representative Patty Kim, Democratic Chair of the House Insurance Committee. “After many negotiations and bi-partisan work, we were able to finally see this law become a reality, which allows the choice of a television or in-person healthcare appointment.  For some, this is an option, and for others, this is a necessity.”

“Senate Bill 739 is another important step in ensuring telemedicine is available as a part of rural health care accessibility. It is often difficult for certain specialists to be within a reasonable travel range for residents in rural areas,” said Representative Tina Pickett, Republican Chair of the House Insurance Committee. “The ability to monitor medical issues to keep people in better health is also very valuable. Many Pennsylvanians, including my constituents in the Northern Tier, will benefit from this legislation.”

“I’m extremely pleased to see this legislation cross the finish line. I’ve worked on this, as have many others, for a long time. Telemedicine helps so many Pennsylvanians access mental health services, developmental therapies for older adults and children, and check-ins with a primary care provider that might otherwise get put off,” said Representative Christina Sappey, Prime Sponsor of House Bill 1512, the House Telemedicine legislation. “Telemedicine is also crucial for the disability community and those living in rural healthcare deserts. It’s only right that insurers cover it. So, again, I’m thrilled we got this done.”

This bill empowers the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID) to ensure Pennsylvanians have access to telemedicine services and treatments remain covered.

“As a parent of three, I know firsthand the logistics involved with taking off work and pulling children out of class for a medical appointment. Encouraging the use of telemedicine, where appropriate, holds the promise of quality care that is flexible to best fit your family’s needs and schedule,” said Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Humphreys. “We are glad that access to care via telemedicine for Pennsylvanians will be protected, ultimately increasing Pennsylvania’s access to health care services and treatments.”

“The flexibility created by telehealth, when appropriate for the level of care and patient’s needs, can expedite access to medical care, ease barriers, and improve a person’s follow through and engagement in care – each of which can help Pennsylvanians achieve and maintain good health and a better overall wellbeing,” said Human Services Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh. “Use of telehealth has expanded greatly since 2020, and this law takes lessons learned since that time and will create consistent standards and expectations for access across DHS’ health care programs and commercial insurance – a necessary step to support continued use of telehealth care moving forward.”

“In recent years, we have seen how telemedicine can be a game changer for Pennsylvanians, especially in areas with limited health care provider options,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen. “In addition to expanding access to quality care, telemedicine can help reduce the burden on families by eliminating the need to arrange for childcare, transportation, and time off work to attend a health care appointment.”

Since taking office, Governor Shapiro has worked to expand access to health care to ensure Pennsylvanians receive the high-quality care services they need, including:

  • Signing landmark legislation that requires health care insurers to cover preventative breast and ovarian cancer screenings for high-risk women at no cost.
  • Signing legislation that ensures improved access to timely data on maternal health and maternal mortality in Pennsylvania, allowing researchers, doctors, and policymakers to make more informed decisions about medical care for moms and families – and building on the $2.3 million secured in the 2023-24 budget to expand maternal health programming.
  • Creating the Behavioral Health Council to develop a statewide action plan to address how to break down silos and deliver timely and quality mental health and addiction care services.
  • Directing health insurers to provide coverage for autism benefits starting in compliance with mental health parity laws, taking action to ensure that parity for autism benefits is a reality for the approximately 55,000 Pennsylvanians with autism.
  • Issuing guidance to insurers to provide coverage for over-the-counter contraception with or without a prescription in support of women’s freedom to make their own health care decisions and the right to access the full scope of reproductive health care.
  • Launched a website to provide resources for patients seeking abortion care and reproductive health care resources.

The post Gov. Shapiro Signs Telemedicine Bill into Law, Expanding Access to Health Care, Especially in Rural Communities appeared first on BCTV.

Source: bctv

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