Insurers to pay for some telemedicine services in South Carolina

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Two major insurers have announced they will pay for some telemedicine services in South Carolina, where a bill in the state Legislature to require coverage failed.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and BlueChoice HealthPlan of South Carolina plan to pay for remote care in three specialties: high-risk pregnancies, stroke and psychiatry, according to the Columbia newspaper The State.

UnitedHealthcare and Carolina Care Plan also cover some telemedicine services. Insurers, however, lobbied against a bill requiring coverage. The bill passed the state Senate, but not the House.

Jim Ritchie, executive director of the S.C. Alliance of Health Plans, told newspaper that the industry supports a market-driven approach to telemedicine, not a government mandate. Meanwhile, the Florida Medical Association supports state legislation; a similar bill failed last year.

The S.C. Department of Mental Health has been using telepsychiatry since 1995. It teamed up with the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia, the South Carolina Hospital Association and Medicaid, using $7.5 million in grants to offer telepsychiatry in 18 emergency departments across the state.

Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston already offers consultations with specialists in stroke and high-risk pregnancy, according to the article.

Reimbursement, however, has long been a constraint on growth of telemedicine. Recent research, however, has illustrated telemedicine's ability to improve care in rural ERs and to increase revenue at referring hospitals.

A federal telemedicine bill reintroduced in the Senate in March calls on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to expand telehealth services. It's already widely offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Speakers at an Alliance for Health Reform event in Washington, D.C., this summer outlined the growing importance of telehealth, saying it will be an important part of rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

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