by Anthony Hennen
Telehealth in Pennsylvania continues to make strides as temporary waivers approved during COVID-19 are made permanent.
A previous bill introduced by Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Lycoming, would align state and federal guidance on home health care. The latest one, HB2419, introduced by Rep. Tina Pickett, R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna, would allow psychiatrists to offer mental health services virtually like they do with in-person services.
And on Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 14 into law, again extending regulatory waivers related to COVID-19 to June 30th.
Telehealth has expanded at the federal and state levels in a number of ways. From payment parity (ensuring in-person and virtual visits are reimbursed equally) to approving provision of care so long as a worker has a proper license and building new infrastructure, telehealth has scaled up immensely in recent years.
“Patient-care visits conducted via telehealth also rose from 13.1% on average before the pandemic to nearly 60% during the early pandemic period,” according to Healthcare IT News.
For it to become a fixture of health care services, some laws and regulations will need to change.
“I believe that telemedicine provides an essential link for patients with special requirements, including the young, minority populations, and the elderly,” Pickett wrote in a legislative memo. “One item to consider is the specific telehealth needs of patients in challenging geographic areas or who may be facing transportation barriers.”
Rather than a boost in funding, the legislation gets rid of regulation that would prevent telehealth growth.
“The legislation removes a statutory barrier giving the Department of Human Services more flexibility to issue waivers to accommodate individual clinics in providing mental health services,” Pickett said. “The legislation will allow licensed prescribing professionals to work within their scope of practice as is the case in the physical health care arena.”
Flexibility and health care now go hand in hand.
“The pandemic taught us the importance of removing government-imposed barriers to expand access to health care. Mental health is no different,” said Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation. “Freeing providers to serve more patients from an office or virtually is common sense.”
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Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.