On Thursday May 17, HB-967 was filed in the North Carolina General Assembly. The goal of the bill seems to be to expand the use of telemedicine (or telehealth) in the state.
The Coalition has talked about telemedicine in the past, and we are very optimistic about its potential to expand healthcare access and reduce costs in North Carolina… if it is done correctly.
What does the bill do?
It does some really good stuff. But before we talk about what it does, the most important thing might be what it doesn’t do.
HB-967 does not include any costly government mandates that would directly lead to increases in healthcare premium rates. Last year’s HB-287 would have done just that. Fortunately, was converted to a study, and so no costly mandates went into effect.
This is a big relief for those of us concerned about healthcare costs in North Carolina.
Now on to the good stuff it does do.
First of all, it clarifies that licensed health care providers can offer their practice via telemedicine in the state of North Carolina.
Second, there are some strong patient protections that ensure the patient is fully informed as to what to expect from telemedicine and that they have consented to the potential risks.
The bill also provides protections for patients’ private health information. Given all the data breaches we have read about in recent years, this is an important consumer protection that will help give patients confidence when using telemedicine.
Lastly, the bill sets out a standard of care. Importantly, the bill addresses the potential over-prescription of pain-killers (including opioids) via telehealth.
“No health care provider shall prescribe a controlled substance for the treatment of pain unless that provider has, within the last 12 months, conducted an in-person physical examination of the patient for the condition causing the pain for which the prescription is sought."
Sounds good! Anything else?
The bill requires that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) “study and report… Whether private health benefit plans should be required to provide reimbursement for health care delivered via telemedicine on the same terms as reimbursement for in-person care.”
This study could lead to a reimbursement mandate down the road, so we must remain vigilant! But this bill has no costly mandates.
Telemedicine is great because it removes all of those overhead costs from the doctor visit. There’s no expensive facilities, medical equipment, front office staff… etc.
If DHHS recommends a mandate that providers be reimbursed at the same rate (parity) as an in-person visit, then the patient won’t see any of those cost savings which is not fair and will probably increase overall health care spending.
We are lucky to have some savvy legislators and administrators in North Carolina who understand the benefits and risks of telehealth. The Coalition will continue to monitor this issue and let you know what happens.
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