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Telehealth laws expanded, updated in nearly every state

Almost every state in the United States and the District of Columbia has updated their telehealth laws, not only expanding access to services but also clarifying how those services can be provided, according to a report by healthcare law firm Epstein Becker & Green.

In particular, the report examines how the states have updated their telehealth laws to include telemental and telebehavioral health in the past year.

According to the report, telehealth is a good fit for mental health services “because mental health providers rarely have to lay hands on their patients, even in the context of conventional face-to-face care encounters.” Therefore, “providing the same services remotely using telehealth technology is not viewed as far removed from the way these services are provided in the in-person context,” the report said.

Telemental and telebehavioral health services can also fill in the gaps for mental healthcare providers in rural areas or areas where there is a shortage of those providers. New technologies such as mobile health apps are also driving the growth of telemental health services, the report said.

According to the report, several states modified their telehealth laws to allow physician-patient relationships to be established via audio and visual telehealth technologies. Previously, many states prevented physicians from providing medical advice without first performing a physical examination.

Telehealth on display at ATA 2016

The only two states that did not update their telehealth laws were Connecticut and Massachusetts. However, in 2015, Connecticut passed a law that required commercial health insurers to cover telehealth services the same as in-person visits. Massachusetts does not have a parity law but, according to state law, private health insurers may reimburse physicians for telehealth services with certain provisions.

A 2016 report by the American Telemedicine Association found that 31 states and the District of Columbia had telemedicine parity laws, but it was expected that Medicaid programs in every state would cover some form of telehealth or telemedicine beginning this year.