Statewide telehealth efforts gaining momentum

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If recent headlines are any indication, telehealth is becoming more of a priority for several states throughout the nation of late. In Mississippi, for instance, state legislators approved a bill last week that would allow insurance companies to reimburse physicians who consult with rural doctors using telemedicine, The Commercial Appeal reported.

State Rep. Charles Busby, a Republican, told the newspaper that the cost for installing telemedicine equipment for facilities in the state is down to roughly $12,000 per facility, from a high of $40,000. According to the newspaper, rural providers who have used telehealth to work with specialists to date often have not been paid for such efforts.

Meanwhile, in Maryland last week, state officials introduced legislation that would require the Maryland Medical Assistance Program to reimburse for telemedicine services. State Sen. Catherine Pugh (D) sponsored the bill.

Just south of Maryland in Virginia, between 45 and 50 percent of all providers surveyed for the state's 2012 Broadband and Health IT Analysis said they expected to be using telehealth services within three years, EHR Intelligence reported. Fifty-four percent of hospitals in the commonwealth currently use telehealth in some capacity, according to the analysis, although only 17 percent of small practice providers are in the same boat.

American Telemedicine Association CEO Jonathan Linkous called the government a "lagging partner" for the telehealth industry, and said in a recent commentary that government policies have been the biggest barriers to telehealth deployment for roughly 20 years.

Still, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recently allocated $1.9 million for new telehealth resource centers, in amounts of up to $300,000 for the national center and $325,000 for each regional center, through the Telehealth Resource Center Grant Program. The funds are going to healthcare organizations and networks establishing telehealth programs for rural and medically underserved parts of the population.

Additionally, a bill introduced in the House of Representatives last month would expand reimbursement for telehealth services in federal programs and create a federal standard for medical licensure in telehealth. The bill--H.R. 6719--would increase access to telemedicine within Medicare; Medicaid; the Children's Health Insurance Program; TRICARE, which provides health benefits for military personnel, retirees and their families; federal employee health plans and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

To learn more:
- read The Commercial Appeal article
- here's the Maryland legislation (.pdf)
- check out the EHR Intelligence post

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HHS allocates $1.9 million for new telehealth resource center
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