Indiana lawmakers push to expand telehealth after pandemic

"Telehealth matters," reads the synopsis of the new bill, which also has provisions prohibiting Medicaid from specifying originating and distant sites for reimbursement purposes.
By Kat Jercich
02:57 PM
A "Welcome to Indiana" sign

A bipartisan group of Indiana state lawmakers has introduced a bill in the legislature that would expand access to telehealth after the COVID-19 pandemic.   

"Telehealth matters," reads the synopsis on Senate Bill 3, which was co-authored by state Sens. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso; Blake Doriot, R-Middlebury; Michael Crider, R-Greenfield; and Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington.  

"I think we all fully realize that the pandemic was very transformational for the use of telehealth and various ways of remote treatment of patients. … My first goal in putting together Senate Bill 3 was to make sure we did not fall back once the emergency orders are ended," Charbonneau said last week during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health and Provider Services, as reported by the NWI Times.  

WHY IT MATTERS

The bill would enact a number of changes to the state's existing telehealth law, including:  

  • Prohibiting the Medicaid program from specifying originating sites and distant sites for purposes of reimbursement.
  • Specifying certain activities – such as assessment, diagnosis and monitoring of a patient, transfer of medical data, patient health-related education, and public health services – as "healthcare services."
  • Expanding the application of the telehealth statute to additional licensed practitioners instead of having it apply only to prescribers.
  • Requiring that telehealth medical records be created and maintained under the same standards of appropriate practice for medical records for patients in an in-person setting.
  • Prohibiting certain insurance policies and individual and group contracts from mandating the use of certain technology applications in the provision of telehealth service.

Interestingly, the bill would also strike current language specifying that telehealth does not include the use of a telephone call, suggesting that the lawmakers support the use of audio-only virtual care. 

Advocates have pointed to the importance of making audio-only telehealth available in order to broaden access, particularly in areas with low Internet connectivity. (Indiana lawmakers also introduced a bill this past week that would expand broadband in rural areas.)  

The bill would also redefine "telemedicine" as "telehealth," consistent with the current lexical zeitgeist around virtual care.  

THE LARGER TREND  

Although the future of telehealth under President Joe Biden and a 117th Congress remains unclear, some states are taking expansion into their own hands.  

This past week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed sweeping telehealth reforms, including broad regulatory and statutory changes to allow for greater flexibility in where and how patients use telehealth, and new requirements for insurers regarding telehealth coverage.  

The week before that, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill into law that will expand access to telehealth after the COVID-19 emergency.

ON THE RECORD

"This is very good for the delivery of health care in Indiana, particularly in areas that are underserved, areas that don't have hospitals, and areas that don't have health care providers in their immediate vicinity," Charbonneau said, according to the NWI Times.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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