Medical professionals praise “groundbreaking” telehealth progress in Arizona

On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2596 into law, which increases broadband access for Arizona’s rural and tribal communities, allowing private broadband providers to install telecommunications infrastructure on highways under the jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT). This is the second telehealth-related bill to become law in Arizona this month, fulfilling a central goal of Ducey’s: to permanently extend the state’s temporary telehealth expansions.

 

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According to Ducey, HB 2596 will provide more of the state’s rural population with the means to access critical remote services, like telehealth.

HB 2596’s passage comes several days after Ducey signed HB 2454, a comprehensive telehealth expansion bill that makes the governor’s March executive order — which expanded telehealth at the onset of the pandemic — permanent. Rep. Regina Cobb sponsored both bills.

Cobb told State of Reform in February that telehealth and broadband expansion were some of her highest priorities this session. Following the passage of HB 2596, she underscored how much it will benefit rural communities:

“Arizonans in all areas, including rural, depend on high-speed internet for education, work, medical needs, transportation, public safety and so much more. I was proud to take the lead on House Bill 2596 to allow private entities to install broadband conduit and fiber optic cable in more areas of the state.”

HB 2454 solidified telehealth expansions including requiring health plans to cover all services conducted through telemedicine that they would normally cover for in-person visits. The bill includes audio-only visits in its definition of “telehealth.”

The bill requires payment parity for physicians for remote services. It also allows license portability, which permits physicians from other states to conduct telehealth visits in Arizona if they meet certain conditions.

The Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) advocated for HB 2454 since its introduction. ArMA praised the bill’s passage and Dr. Miriam Anand, president of ArMA, highlighted how the bill will streamline access to care for Arizonans:

 

 

Libby McDannell, CEO of ArMA, explained how beneficial the now-permanent expansions have been throughout the public health crisis:

“Telehealth has been critical during the pandemic for both physicians and their patients, and now it’s an important part of the healthcare delivery landscape. ArMA was pleased to support HB 2454 because this groundbreaking new law secures telehealth payment parity for Arizona physicians, implements other reforms that both encourage the clinically appropriate use of telehealth as well as protect in-person care, and regulates out-of-state providers. With HB 2454, the tools are in place to ensure that telehealth improves access to care for all Arizonans.”  

Dr. Andrew J.P. Carroll, a board director for the American Academy of Family Physicians and a practicing family physician in Arizona, told State of Reform he is excited about the positive impact telehealth expansion will have on his practice:

“It’s exciting that the Arizona legislature and Governor have recognized the importance of integrating telehealth availability for patients to be able to reach their physicians when and where they need them by signing this legislation into law. It’s important to continue to have a relationship with a physician who can see you face-to-face when necessary, and the long-term relationship a patient has with their physician is enhanced with this law and can only serve to improve a patient’s experience and healthcare outcomes.”