Health insurance companies to cover telemedicine

2013-04-25T14:05:00Z 2013-04-27T00:15:07Z Health insurance companies to cover telemedicineBy CINDY UKEN cuken@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Health insurance companies will have to reimburse Montana patients who seek medical care via telemedicine at the same rate they would for an office visit following legislation signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock.

The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Telemedicine is critical in a rural state like Montana, the governor said.

"I want our rural, agricultural communities to thrive, and this is one way to strengthen these smaller communities so they can remain viable," Bullock said. "We have some amazing new technology, and this bill encourages its use so that rural doctors have a way to provide their patients with services that may not be available for hundreds of miles.”

Sen. Edward Buttrey, R-Great Falls, introduced the legislation, SB270, after hearing from some rural residents who received health care via telemedicine and were denied reimbursement or were reimbursed at reduced rates. The time to put telemedicine patients on a level playing field with in-office patients is overdue, he said.

The Eastern Montana Telemedicine Network started connecting far-flung patients to Billings Clinic doctors two decades ago.

Videoconferencing can include a patient, his or her hometown health care providers and family, as well as specialists in Montana or from anywhere in the world.

“We are a unique state because we are so rural,” Buttrey said. “People in the rural and remote corners of the state deserve to get quick, safe, adequate care and be reimbursed as if they were face-to-face with the physician.”

Matt Kuntz, executive director of the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, lauded the legislation, saying the legislation is important for the development and long-term viability of telemedicine in the state.

“It makes it clear that there will be a payment source available to repay the health providers investment in these systems,” Kuntz said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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