A while back, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) released its Report on Telemedicine Study and Recommendations. It’s been a while since we talked about Telehealth, but as a quick reminder:

  • Telehealth has great potential to improve your health. It allows you to connect to a doctor remotely, improving access and convenience.
  • It also can save money: No overhead costs related to expensive facilities, medical equipment, staff, etc.… Just you and your doctor connected by audio and/or video. However…
  • Currently there is a bill, HB 721, that would mandate that doctors receive the same level of payment as with in-person visits (parity). That means you would be required to pay the same for a telehealth visit as an in-person visit.
  • In other words, you’d be paying the same for a visit that has access to all the great staff, equipment and facilities as you would for one that doesn’t. That difference doesn’t improve your health, it simply improves providers’ profits.
  • Worse, a whole lot of telehealth visits end with a recommendation of an in-person visit. That’s two visits you’d have to pay for! If price parity were enacted, we could be paying double what we would if telehealth didn’t exist.

On the one hand, the report from NCDHHS could go further in accentuating how to keep costs reasonable. But on the other hand, it doesn’t go so far as to defend parity, so that’s good for our fiscal health.

If HB 721 passes, however it would be a government mandate for parity. A fantastic, innovative, cost-saving tool could turn into yet another poorly designed cudgel to beat more money out of patients.

A sign that the NCDHHS cares about skyrocketing costs is their recommendation to develop a policy that allows the freedom to innovate telehealth further, and encourage competition by not imposing unnecessary mandates.

As the regulating agency of the insurance industry in our state, DOI believes the following issues should be considered as it may relate to the commercial market:

• Telemedicine regulation in the delivery of Medicaid benefits should not be directly imposed on the commercial insurance community

• A state telehealth/telemedicine policy needs to be fluid enough to evolve with innovation.

• A telehealth/telemedicine policy needs to encourage market competition and allow carriers the flexibility to realize efficiencies.

HB 721 falls short on these measures.

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