Lawmakers In Washington State Consider Establishing Guidelines For Audio-Only Telehealth

State Rep. Marcus Riccelli’s HB 1196, which sets specific guidelines for use and coverage of audio-only telehealth platforms such as the phone, has been met with near-unanimous approval by the House this week. The bill, if passed by the state Senate, would mandate coverage for audio-only telehealth beyond the coronavirus pandemic, providing that the service meets certain requirements.

Legislators at both the federal and state levels have been trying to implement lasting regulations on audio-only telehealth, which is currently allowed in many states due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters of this technology point out that not all places have access to internet services, and many people lack the financial means to get telemedicine. On the other hand, some believe that phone calls are not secure enough for medical purposes. Certain states have made audio-only telehealth a permanent option for certain services, such as mental health, while others are awaiting the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or Congress to make the federal rules. In New Hampshire, some legislators have even proposed to end coverage for audio-only telehealth.

Under Washington Representative Marcus Riccelli’s proposed bill, care providers would be able to receive reimbursement for audio-only telehealth services if they have a pre-existing relationship with their patient from an in-person exam within the last year. The bill also requires consent from the patient prior to an appointment and prevents providers from charging facility fees. In addition, it defines audio-only telehealth as “the delivery of health care services through the use of audio-only technology, permitting real-time communication between the patient at the originating site and the provider, for the purpose of diagnosis, consultation, or treatment” and excludes e-mail or fax communications as well as services that have traditionally been done by phone, such as lab results. Riccelli expressed in a press release to State of Reform that “the emergence of telehealth throughout this pandemic has made healthcare more accessible. This bill ensures that those gains in accessibility are also equitable. Audio-only telehealth allows those without a computer or broadband access to just as easily gain access to a doctor and rapidly get medical advice.”