Gov. Greg Abbott wants to permanently expand telemedicine access in Texas

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — During his State of the State address on Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he wants to permanently expand access to telemedicine services that have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in order to maintain telemedicine access and coverage beyond the pandemic, Abbott will need the help of the Texas Legislature, Congress, and private insurance providers.

“We should seize the opportunity this session to permanently expand telemedicine so that every Texan in every region of the state can benefit,” Abbott said while laying out priorities for the 87th Legislature.

In March, Abbott lifted certain regulations on the types of health care services that can be offered over the phone or through video calls.

He also issued an emergency rule for the Texas Dept. of Insurance to compensate health care providers for telemedicine visits at the same rate as an in-person visit. But that equalized compensation only applied to patients covered by state-regulated insurance plans, like those purchased through HealthCare.gov, which make up only 15% of plans in Texas, according to TDI.

Congress regulates payments for private insurance companies, many of which voluntarily expanded telemedicine coverage during the pandemic.

Aetna and BlueCross BlueShield of Texas told KXAN that they will continue to fully reimburse health care providers for telemedicine visits. Humana’s Medicare Advantage medical plan will continue to cover telehealth services, a spokesperson said.

The Biden administration is expected to continue full coverage of telemedicine for Medicare patients.

The 87th Texas Legislature could pass new laws to require full coverage of telemedicine services for state-regulated plans, like those obtained through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, and Medicaid.

“I think the policy hurdle is the fiscal note,” said Lisa Kirsch, senior policy director at Dell Medical School. “If the data is undecided it’s going to be will there be a cost to the state’s budget.”

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