If you were ill and your personal physician advised consulting a medical specialist about your diagnosis, would you choose:
A. To drive more than 100 miles to see the nearest specialist.
B. To consult that specialist via private, two-way, audio-visual technology without leaving your hometown.
Those who chose “B” should know that their choice is now protected under a Montana law that became effective Jan. 1. Insurance policies regulated by the state of Montana now are required to cover health care services delivered by telemedicine as they would cover the same service delivered without telemedicine.
This parity law will be especially beneficial to folks in rural Montana. Telemedicine bridges the distance between patients and medical specialists. It also allows patients to choose to receive more of their care in their small towns. Even in Montana’s larger cities, telemedicine links patients with distant subspecialists.
Montana health care providers have long recognized the value and versatility of telemedicine in our vast, sparsely populated state. Billings physicians have practiced long-distance medicine for more than two decades. Montana Medicaid embraced telemedicine in 1994 because it delivers quality care while saving the state money on patient travel. In 1997, all the telemedicine networks based at Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, Missoula, Kalispell and Great Falls joined in the Montana Telehealth Alliance. A patient at any hospital or clinic in any of those networks can be connected with any physician on that network or any other network.
Despite the obvious patient benefits, telemedicine networks had seen an increase in insurance payment denials over the past couple of years. Montana health care providers took their concerns to the 2013 Legislature. Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, introduced Senate Bill 270, which passed the Senate on a unanimous vote.
In the House, the Human Services Committee unanimously voted for SB270 and it received only four votes against final passage. When Gov. Steve Bullock signed the bill into law, he assured Montanans that distance won’t be an obstacle to the best health care when telemedicine is available.