The telehealth bill (House Bill 1029) is maintaining momentum. It passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a 4-1 vote last week and passed the Senate on second reading today. The bill is likely to be the first significant piece of health care legislation to pass during the 2015 session.
The fact that Senator Beth Martinez Humenik (R), who sits on the Senate health committee, was a co-sponsor meant that it was all but certain to move forward last week. Another Republican committee member, Larry Crowder, called telehealth “amazing technology” and added his support.
Senator John Kefalas (D) said that the advancement of telehealth has great potential to further health care’s elusive Triple Aim – lower cost, better quality and better outcomes – and pointed to the diverse list of organizations supporting the bill. Kefalas, a bill sponsor, handed out CHI’s recent report on telehealth during the hearing as a resource on the subject.
The bill requires insurance companies to reimburse telehealth services in urban counties at the same rate as face-to-face visits. The requirement already exists in rural counties.
Most of the opposition voiced in last week’s hearing came from Senator Kevin Lundberg (R), the committee chair. Lundberg stated his concern with an amendment replacing the term “telemedicine” in the bill with “telehealth,” a term that applies to a broader spectrum of services. He cautioned the committee, saying HB 1029 is not likely to live up to its promise of promoting greater efficiency in the health care system. The Berthoud senator said that medicine has become increasingly ubiquitous in our culture and he doubts the trend is sustainable.
Lundberg’s argument exemplifies a larger ideological debate in the legislature about health care over the role of personal responsibility in determining health. Lundberg believes the term “telehealth” blurs the line between needed treatment (“medicine”) and individual responsibility for preventive care (“health”). By broadening the options for telehealth reimbursement to those beyond licensed physicians, Lundberg said, “I think we have jumped down the wrong road.”
“I am a no vote but suspect that I am in the minority,” Lundberg said. The vote proved him right, with the committee’s other four members in favor.
Telehealth has become a hot topic beyond Colorado as well. On Saturday, Modern Healthcare published an in-depth article about the nationwide surge in virtual health services. The author noted that telehealth business “is booming even as questions about the quality of care and cost effectiveness of those services remain unresolved.” Assuming HB 1029 passes the Senate, Colorado is setting itself up as a test case.
Over the next few days, we’ll be following the hearings for House Bill 1194 (state funding for a successful long-acting reversible contraception program) and House Bill 1143 (tax credits for household improvements that support aging at home). Those bills are up today and Thursday, respectively, in the two House health care committees. We’ll share their fates and our thoughts with you in the coming days.
Other developments worth mentioning:
• House Bill 1059 (changes to the Denver Health and Hospital Authority Board) was laid over by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee last Thursday amid concerns about the new board rules, including the requirement for a unanimous board vote to remove a member.
• House Bill 1147 (requiring a license to practice genetic counseling) passed the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee by a vote of 7-6 and is moving to the Finance Committee.
• House Bill 1163 (a contingent repeal of health insurance laws aligning with the Affordable Care Act if it is repealed) failed to advance out of the same committee on a party-line (6-7) vote.