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Telehealth access is a patchwork in Pennsylvania, one state senator is trying to fix that

Cheryl Gibson of Schuylkill Haven has struggled with inconsistent telehealth care that she needs for treatment of ongoing health conditions.
Matt Smith
Spotlight PA
Cheryl Gibson of Schuylkill Haven has struggled with inconsistent telehealth care that she needs for treatment of ongoing health conditions.

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Telehealth visits are not guaranteed to be reimbursed by private insurers in Pennsylvania, but one state senator’s bill wants to make that possible; the Pitt volleyball team has, for the first time in program history, made it to the Final Four and will square off against Nebraska tonight in the semifinals; and we hear from a researcher of storytelling based in Washington, Pa. whose latest book explores how stories can be a positive and negative cultural force. 

A state lawmaker is trying to make telemedicine more accessible across Pennsylvania
(0:00 - 7:34)

Throughout the pandemic, many of us turned to virtual visits for health care. Instead of setting foot in offices, we talked to our doctors, therapists, and nurse practitioners for minor problems through video chat or on the phone.

But the state of Pennsylvania doesn’t have any laws requiring private insurers to reimburse for telehealth, which can create problems for those who need it most.

“There is currently not a law or a regulation that mandates those folks with private insurance get reimbursed for telehealth,” says Danielle Ohl, an investigative reporter with Spotlight PA. Ohl says without such a law, some telehealth visits are reimbursed differently than an in-person visit, or not at all.

Ohl spoke with residents who had varied experiences with providers offering telehealth: some doctors agreed to treat virtually, others refused without giving any reason.

“The situation in Pennsylvania is a little ambiguous for providers too, they don’t know that every patient that’s coming to them has coverage because there’s no mandate just giving a level playing field,” says Ohl. It can be more cumbersome for individual providers, especially those in rural areas, to assess and confirm their patients have insurance that will reimburse them for telehealth appointments.

Senator Elder Vogel, Jr. (R., Beaver) has been introducing a bill to support telemedicine since 2016. Last year, the bill came very close to becoming law, but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf after the House version of the bill was amended to prohibit prescriptions made via telehealth to induce an abortion.

Ohl says Vogel seems more confident the latest iteration of the bill will pass.

“The bill is in the Insurance Committee, and he told me that there is talk among his colleagues of addressing that prescription piece separate from this law so that this law can get to Wolf, get signed and be on the books as a starting place for Telehealth coverage in Pennsylvania,” says Ohl.

Pitt’s volleyball team is competing in the Final Four tonight
(7:38 - 17:36)

Tonight at 9:30 p.m. the University of Pittsburgh’s volleyball team will play in the national semifinals against Nebraska.

This is the first time Pitt’s team has reached the Final Four.

“When I first got here, I never would have imagined it, but with the talent we had coming into this season, I definitely thought we could do it,” says Head Coach Dan Fisher.

“It’s just the culmination of all the work we put in,” says co-captain Chinaza Ndee, a right-side hitter and middle blocker. “I chose to stay an extra year because I believe in this program and to be able to go to Columbus and compete for a national championship I think is just amazing.”

Ndee says one of the team’s strengths has been well-balanced skills.

Fellow co-captain and outside hitter Kayla Lund says the team’s variety of experience has also been helpful.

“We had some really good pick ups across the Freshman class and our transfers that just elevated our level and they absolutely have made a huge difference for us talentwise,” says Lund. “The culture of our program is something that we talk about a lot, … but then also staying true to who we are and who we’ve been throughout the past couple years of being here has made for a great recipe for success.”

The match takes place at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio tonight at 9:30 p.m. If the Panthers win, they will compete for the NCAA Championship Saturday.

Washington resident Jonathan Gottschall’s new book explores how stories shape us, not the other way around
(17:41 - 22:30)

Jonathan Gottschall is an author and English professor who studies the science of storytelling, whether in novels, movies, or politics. He lives in Washington, Pennsylvania.

His new book, “The Story Paradox,” explores how stories are a force for both good and bad in our culture. Gottschall spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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