Increasingly, shrinks trade their couches for video screens as a result of advances in state telehealth legislation. That means patients pour their hearts out from the comfort of their homes instead of trekking across town. These advances also mean payers such as Medicare more frequently cover the cost of similarly convenient services. The 2017 Appendix to the 50-State Survey of Telemental/Telebehavioral Health shows increased legislative activity in the year since Epstein Becker Green published its 2016 survey. The appendix summarizes changes in telehealth-related laws, regulations and policies mentioned in the survey.
In the past year, Arkansas, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, and Maine enacted regulations allowing physician-patient relationships and evaluations using real-time audio and visual telehealth technologies. Many states modified laws or enacted more laws to clarify regulations which allow telehealth services to be provided. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia enacted telehealth private payer laws. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also reported a 28 percent increase in Medicare payments for telehealth services in 2016.
While telehealth providers expand their services, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other government institutions prepare for more integration with programs. The VA recently floated the idea of allowing telehealth visits with veterans — including in their homes — across state lines. But what most likely will drive increased use of telehealth services is the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. The compact, which took effect April 6, expedites licensing for doctors in 22 states to practice in multiple states. The intent is to encourage states to develop telehealth-service-friendly regulations. The result would be an increase of payor coverage for those services in states without them. Meanwhile, states continue to forge ahead with telehealth innovations. West Virginia, for example, approved legislation to expand access to mental and behavioral meds through telehealth visitations.