Health officials, hospitals and others Wednesday urged passage of a bill that would require health insurers to cover services provided by telemedicine, saying it will save money for patients and, in the long run, insurers.
"This is an efficient and effective medical tool," said Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, the sponsor of the bill. "It saves time and money for those who use it in those rural areas.
"It makes sense that providers who give access to quality care, while providing efficiency, should be paid for it."
Nobody opposed Buttrey's Senate Bill 270, which says if a health insurer covers a service, it must cover that service if it's provided via telemedicine.
Thelma Armstrong, director of the Eastern Montana Telemedicine Network, told the Senate Public Health Committee there's been a significant increase recently of insurance companies denying coverage for care through telemedicine.
"This is an alarming trend," she said. "We are not asking for additional coverage, but asking for telemedicine to be allowed as the delivery method for already-covered service."
Cherie Taylor, CEO of Northern Rockies Medical Center in Cut Bank, told of pediatric burn patient who, through telemedicine, visited with a specialist in Salt Lake City every two weeks to check on skin grafts, rather than having to spend four days traveling the 1,400 miles to Utah to see a physician.
Patients who don't do follow-up visits because of long travel times can end up getting sicker and costing more money, she added.
"Senate Bill 270 has the means to provide hard-dollar savings, from the patient to the insurers," Taylor said.
The Senate panel took no immediate action on the bill.
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