At a time of turmoil in health care policy on the federal level, Vermont Governor Phil Scott has signed a law that will expand telemedicine services and insurance coverage across the state.
The governor visited the University of Vermont Medical Center to view a demonstration of telemedicine between the Burlington-based hospital and the Rutland Regional Medical Center.
Following the interactive display, the governor signed S.50, which expands telemedicine services beyond health care facilities and expands insurance coverage for the service. House Health Care Committee Chair Bill Lippert noted that current state law mandates that telemedicine occur only between health care facilities. “The key provision of this law expands telemedicine access to other locations where the patient could be at a distant site like their home or their workplace. It’s entirely possible that there’s a site perhaps even in a library where there’s a private setting but access to video. So the key provision is that this expands it from health care site to health care site to other distant sites where the patient does not have to travel to a health care facility in order to access telemedicine.”
Governor Scott said he was excited to sign a bill that will improve affordability and access to health care in rural areas of the state. “S.50 has new requirements for payers to reimburse services and will apply to Medicaid and all other health care insurance plans. This means that payers will be required to treat telemedicine the same as if it was an in-person visit. And in addition there are no limits to these services, which can be broadly used by all types of health care professionals. This is a great way to extend access to care without necessarily increasing costs.”
University of Vermont Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Leffler says tele-health plays a huge part in achieving goals set by the hospital network. “Tele-health will help us increase access particularly for hard to access specialties like neurology; increased quality and patient satisfaction especially for underserved and vulnerable populations in Vermont and New York. It can help us reduce per capita costs particularly by ensuring the timely treatments when the patient needs it where they need it. It will help to reduce the likelihood of unnecessary emergency department visits and hospital admissions. It also should help us decrease the duplication of expensive specialty services. S.50 helps us continue down this path and bring our high quality specialists to all areas in Vermont and upstate New York.”
Brattleboro Retreat Chief Medical Officer and Psychiatrist Dr. Mark McGee says the bill presents an opportunity to improve telemedicine access to psychiatric services. “Telemedicine has great potential to help alleviate the current psychiatric crisis in emergency departments across the state where psychiatric services are woefully in short supply. Telemedicine is an important resource that has the potential to transform not just a particular specialty but to transform our overall approach to health care. The promise of telemedicine goes beyond emergency department and tertiary care centers. It holds great potential to expand access into schools, prisons, nursing homes and even the very homes of Vermonters.”
The new telemedicine law takes effect on October 1, 2017.