After months of favorable testimony by physicians and health organizations on the beneficial effects of removing state restrictions on telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ohio state Senate unanimously passed House Bill 122, making the modifications permanent, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law on December 22.
Under the new statute, public and private insurance companies are required to reimburse for telemedicine services offered by providers including psychologists, therapists, audiologists, physical therapists, dietitians, and optometrists, effective March 23. Under the law, approved health care providers can negotiate with insurers to establish allowed reimbursements.
Pandemic Rule Changes
Prior to the pandemic, Ohio law did not allow emergency or temporary licensure for physicians residing in other states and licensed out of state. The state implemented Medicaid rule changes regarding the definition of telehealth to allow coverage of telephone calls and remote patient monitoring and other electronic treatment and consultation.
During the pandemic, the state Board of Medicine removed in-person care requirements, but it planned to reinstate in-person rules after the governor’s state of emergency was lifted. Successful implementation of telehealth during the crisis, particularly for those in more rural areas, led legislators to consider making the expansive telehealth policies permanent.
Buckeye Research-Backed Reforms
The Buckeye Institute provided legislators with research and recommendations for immediate action in expanding access to and legalizing telehealth in the state of Ohio and has lauded the bill’s passage, says Rea S. Hederman, executive director of the Economic Research Center at the Buckeye Institute.
“During the pandemic, Ohioans witnessed that free-market policies such as expanding access to telehealth services is not only popular but offers real benefits to doctors and patients,” said Hederman, in a statement following the bill’s passage.
“By signing this Buckeye Institute-championed policy into law and modernizing Ohio’s telehealth rules, Governor Mike DeWine and lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly have made it easier for people to access medical services and to get the care they need,” said Hederman.
A number of health care organizations and advocacy groups supported HB 122. Dentists objected to passage because the bill did not include coverage for telemedicine in dentistry.
Expanding telehealth improves outcomes and reduces health care costs, states a bipartisan report by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the Progressive Policy Institute, published on November 10. The report found people who use telehealth utilize fewer health care services over time. “The average telehealth patients’ health care expenses fell 61 percent from $1,099 per month to $425,” states the report.
Other states would be wise to follow Ohio’s action, says Charles Katebi of AFP, coauthor of the report.
“Telehealth is an equalizer in our health care system, said Katebi. “There are people in some communities that do not have access to specialists and high-quality health care.”
Ashley Bateman (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Virginia.