In case you missed it, the New York Times opinion page featured a former physician strongly criticizing the impact of telehealth mandates like those in the General Assembly’s House Bill 149.

House Bill 149 would institute a costly and dangerous government mandate that would force families and businesses, through their insurance premiums, to cover (i.e. pay for) any healthcare service provided virtually if it’s covered in-person.

Here’s what Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal had to say:

“Covid-19 let virtual medicine out of the bottle. Now it’s time to tame it… Deploying it too widely or too quickly risks poorer care, inequities and even more outrageous charges in a system already infamous for big bills.”

Worse care. Inequities in care. Higher costs of care.

Telehealth mandates like these are clearly bad for consumers. Who are they good for?

“Many of the new types of telemedicine being promoted by start-ups more clearly benefit providers’ and investors’ pockets, rather than yielding more convenient, high-quality and cost-effective medicine for patients.”

You get lower quality and higher costs. Providers and investors get a windfall.

Here’s how it works for them.

“With telemedicine generously reimbursed, many practices are offering — even encouraging — patients to visit virtually. But, intentionally or not, that choice becomes a revenue multiplier, adding to patient expense.”

For example:

“When he noticed a curious rash, a relative was first directed to a practice’s telemedicine portal and billed $235 for a five-minute video appointment. Since rashes are often hard to evaluate in two-dimensions, he was told he needed to see a doctor in person for the diagnosis and then was charged $460 more for that visit.”

Government mandates like those in House Bill 149 would allow – even encourage – this kind of multiple billing.

House Bill 149 even goes so far as to let doctors bill you for emails, texts or remote monitoring.

Telehealth is a great tool. It can lower costs and expand access. But it is not a replacement for in-person care, and it should not be viewed as another big revenue stream for providers and their investors.

Or as Dr. Rosenthal puts it:

“[P]andemic-era reimbursement practices have taken traditionally free screening calls and rebranded them as billed visits, with no value added.”

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