Telehealth boom spawns changes to Arizona law
By Kyra Haas | Arizona Capitol Times | May 21, 2021
Telehealth wasn’t new to Arizona when the pandemic began, but the past year has propelled it into the mainstream.
New legislation, codifying once-temporary changes to how telehealth operates in Arizona, will keep it there. Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, sponsored HB2454, whichwas signed by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this month.
“We saw how not only how it (telehealth) was helping our people during the pandemic but also how it was helping individuals that have difficulty normally getting to the physicians — our elderly or disabled people, families with special needs kids,” Cobb said. “It was so successful that we had to figure out a way to do it permanently.”
Cobb has been passionate about telehealth for a while — she sponsored successful teledentistry legislation a few years ago and before retiring, she offered telehealth at her own dentistry practice. But this year especially laid bare the need for remote care.
“Out of something bad we find something good, and this is one of those issues that came out of something very bad,” Cobb said.
The legislation covers a wide swath of issues aimed at making telehealth in Arizona a viable option for care. Among other provisions, it requires insurance companies to cover video telehealth sessions as it would in-person visits. It also allows out-of-state providers to serve people in Arizona in some situations and keeps health care boards from requiring in-person visits before being prescribed most medications.
Figuring out the interstate commerce piece of the bill was a necessary challenge, Cobb said, for a couple reasons: snowbirds and a lack of specialists.
Now, if someone comes to Arizona from Minnesota for a few months out of the year and wants to check in with their doctor back home, they can do that legally.
Arizonans can also look outside of the state if they’re in need of special care.
“There’s so many times that you want to see a specialist, and you can’t get into them for months and months at a time because they’re very limited in your communities, especially the rural communities,” Cobb said. “Now, if I have specialists at the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic in New York, and I want to see that specialist, I’m able to dothat.”
The new legislation makes Arizona one of only a handful of states to tackle the interstate issue, according to Nancy Rowe, who retired this week from her role as associate director for Public Policy and Outreach for the Arizona Telemedicine Program.
“Arizona is one of the very first states to actually introduce bill language that would allow providers from out-of-state or providers who are not licensed in Arizona to see patients here, and of course, with a whole lot of restrictions, but we’re forging a path in that way.”
Rowe, who has worked in the field of telehealth for 20 years, said the pandemic caused telehealth to balloon in Arizona and across the country, which made people more familiar with the concept. Now, she said, it’s starting to level out with in-person care.
“I think it’s kind of equalized now, and people who are using it are probably using it more by choice,” Rowe said. “These days if I want to talk to one of my doctors, they tend to offer it as a choice, or I can go in-person if I want to.”
Rowe said telehealth can be an appealing alternative, especially considering drive-time and time in the waiting room.Living 10 miles out of town, she preferred it to avoid missing work.
“It was always preferable for me to just pop onto my computer and say, ‘Hey, I’d like to see a doctor, ping me when somebody shows up on the screen,’ and then I would only miss like eight minutes of work instead of an hour or two,” Rowe said.
Cobb anticipates needing to make tweaks or changes over the next few years as issues arise. She’s planning to head out to the remote parts of the state this summer to see how the legislation plays out in the real world.
“I’m excited to see the results of our fruits of our labor,” she said. “I think when I do, I’ll probably see and hear of issues that people are having. And at that point, I will probably adjust what we’ve done.”