This year continues to be a banner one for telehealth
legislation across the country. Most recently, less than a week ago, as JD
Supra and others reported, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law
a new telehealth bill. SB 1089 expands
health insurance coverage for telehealth from the somewhat ambiguous “audio,
video, or other electronic media” language to more specific language that
includes “asynchronous store-and-forward technologies and remote patient
monitoring technologies.” Notably, the new law ensures that commercial health plans
cover services provided through telemedicine at the same rates as those same
services would be covered by in-person consultations.
The previous version of the telehealth law did nothing to clarify expectations for physicians. As a result, patients were unable to receive access to telehealth services. In order to better serve its residents, Arizona looked to the best practices utilized in other states, and wrote some into the new law. In addition to specifying what exactly constitutes telemedicine, the bill maintains Arizona’s prohibition on “the sole use of an audio-only telephone, a video-only system, a facsimile machine, instant messages or electronic mail.” The bill does, however, lift the limitations on which medical specialties can offer services through telehealth. Now, any medical practice can deliver services via telehealth and be covered for doing so. By opening up the use of telehealth to everyone, the bill also eliminates the rural versus urban geographic limitations as well as originating site restrictions. Furthermore, as long as the medical provider maintains the same payment standard for similar telehealth and in-person services, there are no additional restrictions on insurance coverage.
Arizona is one of 36 states to update its commercial insurance laws to cover the practice of telehealth. The trend among the majority of states is to clarify what physicians can and cannot do under telehealth. As telehealth continues to gain traction, there will likely only be more legislative changes, as the law races to catch up with what society desires from its medical practitioners.