(The Center Square) – The Illinois House has passed House Bill 3498, a bill aimed at removing barriers to telehealth services.
COVID-19 sped up the adoption telehealth, in which patients attend doctors’ visits remotely via video call, but not all have access under existing law.
Charles James, the Illinois Rural Health Association’s president-elect, said the bill addresses at the state level a problem “cooked in” to how providers get paid for telehealth services.
The reimbursement structures for rural health clinics and community health centers meant they weren’t getting paid for remote patient visits.
“There were restrictions on providers being able to be paid in certain circumstances, and there was a hard restriction on patients being able to be at their home,” James said.
House Bill 3498 does away with those restrictions at the state level, but the federal level is still a problem, James said.
“That restriction still remains at the federal level,” he said. “Our flexibilities at the federal level right now are only based on the public health emergency.”
Even so, the new law is still good news for rural patients, James said.
“So many of our patients we see in our underserved areas don’t have transportation security,” he said.
Permanent telehealth access will allow those without reliable transportation to keep appointments they might otherwise miss and stay on top of chronic health issues, he points out.
“This really opens the door to being able to treat them,” James said. “So many of our patients have literally 25 and 30 chronic conditions that we’re trying to deal with – very complicated patients, and they need to be seen.”
While telehealth creates an opportunity for more patients to have access to regular health care, James said it also engenders another barrier: Broadband access. This barrier was not addressed in the bill.