Gratwick bill would remove barriers to the use of telehealth

Posted: May 12, 2017 | Senator Gratwick

AUGUSTA — A bill by Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, would remove barriers for the use of modern technology by  bringing telehealth insurance coverage and liability to the same standards as in-person healthcare.

The bill — LD 949, “An Act Regarding Telehealth” — received a public hearing before the Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Wednesday.

Telehealth is the use of audio-video conferencing and remote monitoring to deliver medical, health and educational services. Sen. Gratwick’s bill requires insurers to provide liability insurance for health care provided through telehealth and requires insurance carriers in Maine to provide coverage for telehealth services the same way that it is offered for in-person services. The bill also provides immunity from liability for volunteer providers using telehealth.

“Telehealth is now an established, effective form of health care delivery. It can save lives for patients and time and money for providers,” said Sen. Gratwick. “In a rural state like Maine, it is crucial that we make sure that barriers to the use of telehealth are removed.”

Maine is one of the most rural states in the nation, with 11 of its 16 counties classified as such. The lack of transportation and primary care providers puts thousands of Mainers living in rural parts of the state at a disadvantage. Over 270 towns in Maine are designated as “medically underserved” areas.

Steve Butterfield, the Policy Director for Consumers for Affordable Health Care (CAHC), spoke in favor of the bill and its’ relation to rural parts of Maine.

“On our HelpLine, we have heard from consumers in rural areas of the state with limited access to transportation, and who have to travel significant distances to service centers such as Bangor and Portland for their care and treatment,” said Butterfield. “Telehealth and telemedicine may be ways to improve access to effective health treatments for some of these consumers.”

Kathleen Forti-Gallant, a Nurse Practitioner at Eastern Maine Medical Center and Acadia Hospital, spoke to the time and money her patients could save using Telehealth.

“Many of my patients travel two to four hours each way from our office and this costs them money and time,” said Forti-Gallant. “Some patients are reimbursed for travel, so this would decrease that cost. It would also decrease lost productivity for patients and families”

Other individuals organizations speaking in support include Peggy Shaffer on behalf of the Maine Broadband Coalition, Vice President of Clinical Operations at County Physical Therapy LLC Paul Marquis, CEO of York Hospital Jud Knox, President and CEO of Spectrum Generations Gerard Queally, and Carla Dickstein, Senior Vice-President of Research and Policy Development at Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI).

LD 949 faces further action in the Insurance and Financial Services Committee and votes in the House and Senate.