Patient using telehealth

A bill to codify telehealth provisions that were put into place during the pandemic to temporarily relax some of the regulations has passed out of committee and awaits a hearing in the full House.

Rep. Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill), who is the co-sponsor of House Bill 140, told Kentucky Health News that it is very important for this telehealth bill to pass.

“I think that it’s critical,” she said. “We know that we have a healthcare access problem in Kentucky and this directly impacts and improves access to care.”

Written by Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News

She called the relaxation of the rules during the pandemic “a real godsend” and said going forward, it will continue to increase access to care for Kentuckians, especially for those with health care disparities, like transportation and poverty.

Moser said a key component of the bill is that it continues to allow audio-only visits, which she said is imperative because the state has many places without broadband and many patients who are not adept at using the technology.

The bill also requires parity of payment for services that are delivered in a like manner to an office visit, and allows licensing boards of each profession to have input around what types of visits would be conducive to telehealth services.

“The utilization of telehealth has been one of the shining moments of hope throughout the pandemic,” Rep. Deanna Frazier (R-Richmond) said at the Feb. 4 House Health and Family Services Committee meeting, where the bill passed unanimously.

Frazier, who is the primary sponsor of the bill, added that during the interim, the committee heard testimony that more than 70% of Kentucky physicians have used telehealth during the pandemic.

Among the state’s community health centers, that number amounts to about one in four, or 25.3%, according to data provided by the Kentucky Primary Care Association.

The association has reported that such centers, which are located in medically underserved communities, provide the medical home for one in eight Kentuckians, more than 550,000 people.

Nationwide, the amount of telehealth use is a bit higher among such centers, 30.2%, or nearly one in three, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC report analyzed data from 245 community health centers that provided data about their telehealth visits from June to November. It found that centers in the South and in rural areas consistently reported the lowest use of telehealth. The South, which includes Kentucky, had a weekly telehealth-visit rate of 20.4%, or about one in five.

The report said, “Telehealth is critical to improving access to health care, especially among populations with limited access to care, and to enhancing the U.S. health care system’s capacity to continue to respond to the pandemic.”

The Primary Care Association, which includes federally qualified health centers, commonly known as community health centers, rural health clinics and others, said in an email that it supports legislation that “reduces health disparities and provides patients with additional treatment options.”

“The new legislation creates a successful and forward-thinking telehealth infrastructure for the future,” David Bolt, CEO of the association, said in an email. “This will become an essential component of increasing access to quality primary health care, which will improve health outcomes for all residents of the state.”

Click here for a video from the association about how one of its community health clinics has prioritized telehealth.

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Written by Melissa Patrick. Cross-posted from Kentucky Health News.

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Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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