OLYMPIA – Yesterday, Gov. Inslee signed House Bill 1196, which expands access to telehealth by requiring insurance to reimburse audio-only telehealth. Last year the Legislature passed SB 5385, which required payment parity for telehealth services. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the necessary and rapid expansion of telehealth as a safe and easy way for people to get medical advice without risking the spread of COVID-19. Emergency rules put into place during the pandemic broadened the payment parity to audio-only telehealth service. Hb 1196, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), will simply put that emergency rule in statute.
“Throughout this pandemic, we have seen how valuable telehealth is as a tool. It has made getting good medical advice easier and more accessible,” said Riccelli. “However without action, those benefits would expire for those without access to a computer or broadband. This bill ensures that these gains in accessibility are also equitable and that those without access to broadband or a computer can still gain access to a doctor and rapidly get medical advice.”
The bill includes protections to guarantee that doctors offices and hospitals do not use this expansion of access to overbill people. Hospitals are not allowed to charge facilities fees and doctors cannot suddenly bill for routine activities like calling about a test result.
“This bill will be a boon to rural and underserved areas where audio-only might be the most reliable option for telehealth,” said Riccelli. “Whereas before driving a few hours to see a healthcare provider might have prevented people from seeking medical advice, now they can get timely access to expert advice.”
The bill also provides healthcare providers with certainty around reimbursement for their services and will help expand audio-only telehealth.