Legislation aims to retain telemedicine option after the pandemic

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Legislation to be filed Thursday would ensure that Delawareans continue to have access to remote health care, known as telehealth or telemedicine after the coronavirus pandemic.

Sponsored by Rep. David Bentz, the Telehealth Access Preservation and Modernization Act would consolidate and streamline the rules governing telemedicine in Delaware. The bill permanently codifies key provisions of emergency legislation enacted last summer that expanded the availability of telehealth services for Delawareans in response to the pandemic. The 2020 bill, also sponsored by Rep. Bentz, is set to expire on July 1.

“Throughout the pandemic, telemedicine has been critical to the delivery of health care services for thousands of Delawareans — from routine check-ups to specialist care for people with chronic conditions,” said Rep. Bentz, who chairs the House Health & Human Development Committee. “By necessity, we’ve learned that telehealth services are an extremely efficient way to deliver health care and make it more convenient and accessible for people from all walks of life. We need to make sure those services remain in place going forward.”

According to the Delaware Health Information Network, demand for telehealth services exploded in the spring and summer of last year. The number of telehealth-related insurance claims jumped from several hundred per month statewide in recent years to a peak of more than 40,000 claims per month in April and May of 2020.

Notably, House Bill 160 would permanently change the rules that required every patient to have at least one in-person appointment with a health provider before telehealth services could be used, provisions which were temporarily suspended in the emergency bill. HB 160 also allows patients who do not have access to an internet connection to receive telehealth services by phone, whereas previous rules required all telehealth visits to be conducted via video.

Additionally, HB 160 would bring Delaware into the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which includes 29 states and creates a voluntary, expedited pathway to state licensure for physicians who want to practice medicine in multiple states. An eligible physician could qualify to practice medicine in multiple states by completing one application within the compact, and receipt of separate licenses from each state in which the physician intends to practice.

HB 160 will be assigned to the House Health & Human Development Committee.

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