Q&A: Rep. Matt Soper talks telehealth legislation, budget negotiations, and foreign pharmaceutical importation

Rep. Matt Soper represents District 54 in the Colorado House, serving on the Legal Services, Judiciary, and House & Insurance committees. Soper was one of the lead sponsors on Senate Bill 20-212, a bipartisan piece of telehealth legislation which passed unanimously last night.   

The bill was designed to shore up telehealth access by allowing for service across state lines, prohibiting discrimination against HIPAA complying software, and allowing reimbursement rates to match in-person reimbursements. With the Colorado Legislature wrapping up session this week, I spoke with Soper about the implications of increased telehealth utilization, ongoing budget negotiations, and why he’s against looking into importing pharmaceuticals from foreign countries. 

 

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Michael Goldberg: You said recently that you would like to see telehealth more widely used. Can you talk about why you want to see telehealth utilized more, even after the pandemic?

Rep. Matt Soper: It’s a win-win situation for patients because there are things you could talk about while sitting in your own home, at your own comfort level, that really do affect your health, that you might not say when you go to a clinic or doctor’s office in person. That part I think is something that could help with not just physical recovery, but also the mental health component. 

The other benefit is, a doctor can see a whole lot more patients in a day through telehealth. As some rural hospitals are struggling, this would help out with that as well. Telehealth also allows access to experts that might necessarily be located in your region. 

A quick side note — I was aid in 2005 to state senator Ron Teck and the year before in 2004 he introduced a joint senate resolution, SR 38, and there he’s outlining most of the telehealth preferences included in SB 212. So, this bill has kind of an interesting legacy piece.” 

Michael Goldberg: It seems clear that telehealth will become a central part of the provider toolbox going forward, but with the increased implementation of telehealth, one concern you hear from some on the provider side is that telehealth will be a threat to revenue streams, I know different states have different rules surrounding telehealth payment rates so can you walk me through the state of that issue in Colorado? 

RMS: Currently, telehealth is way below what an in-person visit would be. That’s one reason why it’s not utilized. Another reason why it’s not utilized is a lot of times, providers have proprietary software that requires hospitals pay a license fee to their doctor’s offices in their clinics. If it was only one license fee, that would be one thing. But if every single provider – let’s say you have 10 in your mix- that could be very expensive if all have their own proprietary software. One thing this bill specifically says is that a health insurance carrier cannot require limitations on the technology to deliver telehealth. 

In past telehealth bills in Colorado, it’s tied it to a preexisting relationship with your doctor. We wanted to make sure it’s very free market friendly; that if you wanted to see a doctor that happened to be outside of Colorado, we wouldn’t prevent that if you could find an avenue for it. So, we didn’t want the bill to have any chilling effect on business.

As far as the reimbursement rate, it’s going to tie it to what would be the same for an in-person visit. It gives an incentive not to discriminate based on whether it’s an in-person or telemedicine visit. Otherwise, if you’re a doctor and you get paid more by seeing someone physically, you’re going to ask them to come in even if you could have just logged on to your video platform and spoken to them that way. When a doctor is looking at what is right choice is for a particular patient in terms of a telemedicine visit or an in-person visit, we wanted to make sure the reimbursement rate never gets in the way of that medical decision.”  

MG: Can you also provide an update on the budget negotiations that are underway? To address budget shortages, I know the Democrats have introduced House Bill 1420, which would revoke some tax breaks included in the CARES Act and the 2017 tax cuts signed by the President Trump, as well as current state tax credits for certain industries. What approach to backfilling shortages are you in favor of?

RMS: We’re in favor of getting the economy going again to really start generating revenue. As it stands right now, next year will probably be even worse than this year. That’s why we’re not in favor of 1420 at all, because cutting a lot of the tax breaks would actually have the opposite effect – so now a business or individual is actually paying a lot more in taxes. If you’ve already been struggling over the past three months because of the shutdown to deal with the pandemic, then you’re in a much worse situation to try to rebound. What we would really like to see is the economic model – at first we thought recovery would be a “V” but now it’s probably be a “U” – but we just want Colorado to bounce back. By limiting tools that businesses have come to rely on, it will certainly have a chilling effect on Colorado being able to bound back right away.”  

MG: Any other health bills that you can point out that you think either should or shouldn’t pass? 

RMS: There’s a bill that would allow for importation of drugs from foreign countries. I don’t believe Colorado should be investigating importing drugs from foreign countries when the federal government has never granted a waiver for importing drugs from Canada. Canada is the only country we could lawfully import from under federal law if a waiver was ever granted. It’s  a Bush era law from 2003 and a waiver has never been granted. For Colorado to be passing an expansion of this by basically saying we could import drugs from any nation in the world, and we’re going to allocate precious tax dollars to investigate how we do this when there isn’t even even permission in federal statute to allows it, that seems pretty ridiculous to me. I think it’s an innovative idea but until we see some other state find success or we see a bill passed at the federal level, I do not support us going down this path of investigating importing foreign drugs.”