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March 12, 2014

Iowa Code vague on Telemedicine

Health professionals attempt to spell out important language in growing field

(Continued)

In a rural state like Iowa, treatment could span hundreds of miles for specialists. Telemedicine is one way hospitals bridge those miles and bring doctors to more patients.

Like anything health related, there’s a cost. Tokheim said typical hospital insurance reimbursements in psychiatry, for example, run about $250,000 annually.

“The current (telemedicine) reimbursements don’t come close to covering the actual cost,” he said.

And when it comes to those all-important reimbursements, Tokheim said Iowa Code is pretty vague.

That’s why he has joined other professionals throughout the state to urge legislators to become more aware of the telemedicine field. They have, in part, with state Reps. Deborah Berry and Pat Murphy introducing House File 2160. It’s the first bill to define telemedical licensure, insurance coverage and reimbursement under Iowa’s medical assistance program.

“We don’t really have anything that states what professional licensure should be for telemedicine in Iowa,” said Fred Eastman, Midwest Telemedicine Consortium representative. “This bill is to spell out what the parameters are for using telemedicine.

“The bill was written fairly broadly to look at a number of areas that would support telemedicine use in the state and would recommend how insurance companies should handle reimbursement.”

Health officials aren’t optimistic for legislation anytime soon. The bill is still too far up the funnel to make it onto this year’s floor. Tokheim cited a shorter-than-usual session in Des Moines and legislators leery to touch anything resembling major reform in an election year.

Getting a bill penned was the first step toward fleshing out policy by next year.

“We feel the time has come that providers and the state need to come together and start defining some things so we can at least facilitate the implementation of telemedicine faster than it’s been in the past,” Tokheim said.

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