Riccelli Bill to Expand Access to Audio-Only Telehealth Passes House

OLYMPIA – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the necessary and rapid expansion of telehealth. Telehealth is a safe and easy way for people to get medical advice without risking the spread of COVID-19 or traveling. However those without access to broadband internet or a computer are not able to take advantage of telehealth. To rectify this, Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) introduced House Bill 1196 to require insurance to provide reimbursement for audio only telehealth. HB 1196 passed the House today with a bipartisan vote of 94-3.

“The emergence of telehealth throughout this pandemic has made healthcare more accessible,” said Riccelli. “This bill ensures that those gains in accessibility are also equitable. Audio-only telehealth allows those without a computer or broadband access to just as easily gain access to a doctor and rapidly get medical advice.”

The Legislature passed SB 5385, which was a companion to Riccelli’s HB 2770, last year to require payment parity for telehealth services. Emergency rules have extended that payment parity to audio-only telehealth. That change has proved critical for providing access to care during the pandemic. This bill places those emergency rules in statute.

Amendments on the floor ensured that doctors offices and hospitals do not use this expansion of access to overbill people. They included guaranteeing that hospitals cannot charge facilities fees for appointments and that routine parts of a doctor’s job like calling with test results are not suddenly billed as appointments.

“This bill will help our rural and underserved areas where audio-only might be the most reliable option for telehealth,” said Riccelli. “It will also provide our healthcare providers with certainty around reimbursement for their services.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.