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Telemedicine Bill Passes PA Senate, Faces Hurdle In House

Carolyn Kaster

A bill requiring health insurance companies to cover remote medical services—often called telemedicine—passed the state Senate Wednesday and is headed for the state House Health Committee, where it may face a roadblock.

Telemedicine uses technology like computers and mobile devices to help doctors and patients communicate. It’s used for medical services ranging from dermatology diagnoses to therapy sessions. Health systems have widely adopted the practice, but insurers don’t always cover it.   

similar telemedicine bill failed to advance to a vote last year after getting caught up in the politics of abortion. At the time, Republican state Rep. Kathy Rapp of Beaver County insisted that a rule be added to ban telemedicine services from prescribing a medication abortion. Rapp now chairs the House health committee.  

This time around, some language in the bill has been changed to satisfy insurers and health care providers, said Republican state Sen. Elder Vogel of Beaver County. However, those changes don’t address the abortion concerns raised by Rapp.  

“But hopefully it won’t become an issue this time around,” Vogel said. “I hope not.”  

Rapp said she’ll push to have the bill amended so that telemedicine cannot be used to prescribe abortion drugs. 

“Because I was quite clear that I could not support the bill without some of those changes that I thought were necessary to protect women and the unborn,” she said. 

Mike Straub, spokesman for Republican House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, said the House will consider the bill in November, along with a package of other health-related bills. Cutler will take into consideration Rapp’s concerns, along with those of other committee chairs, Straub said.  

The Hospital and Health System Association has lobbied for the bill, and is optimistic that this time it will pass, according to CEO Andy Carter.  

The group has long pointed to telemedicine as a way to improve patient care in underserved areas while cutting costs. In an email, the association pointed to a Towers Watson study that found telemedicine will save the health care industry $6 billion annually “by reducing readmissions, improving staff utilization and preventing hospitalizations.” 

“Telemedicine brings needed healthcare services to Pennsylvanians who otherwise might not receive it, at all or in time to make a difference,” Carter said. “We look forward to working with the House to get this issue to the governor.”