Arizona Senate unanimously votes to expand telemedicine coverage

The Arizona State Senate passed a bill that would expand insurance coverage for telemedicine services this week in a unanimous vote.

In a recent Q&A with State of Reform, the bill’s prime sponsor Sen. Heather Carter called the bill “an exciting, giant leap forward in health policy for Arizona.”

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Today, commercial insurance providers are required to cover 10 specialty areas when care is delivered via telemedicine. Carter’s bill would bring telemedicine on-par with in-person care, requiring providers to cover the same services within both delivery methods.

Carter said the bill will help address physician shortages in the state, particularly in rural areas.

In a recent policy brief, the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health reported that Arizona meets 41.7 percent of its need for primary care physicians, with most primary care physicians working in urban counties.


Image: University of Arizona Center for Rural Health


This, the report says, is due to an aging population, overall population growth, comparatively low salaries for primary care physicians versus other types of doctors, and a good portion of rural primary care providers who are nearing retirement.

The hope for expanding coverage for telemedicine is that it would extend the reach of current physicians in the state, including primary care providers. Now, the bill moves to the House. Carter said that “telemedicine coverage parity” has support in both parties and in both chambers.

Rep. Nancy Barto, Chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, commented on the bill via email earlier today and sounds positive about the effort.

“Telemedicine could have a wider role in providing quality health care to patients quickly – especially in areas where a physician with the appropriate expertise is not available,” Barto wrote in her email. “There are critical physician shortages here in Arizona and nationwide. Telemedicine is a natural solution and can be an extremely useful tool.”