Washington State physicians praise lawmakers for expanding patient access to care through telemedicine

The Washington State Medical Association, which represents over 10,000 physicians and physician assistants, commends Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Legislature for enacting legislation that will improve access to basic health care services through telemedicine, especially for patients in rural and underserved communities in our state.

Senate Bill 5436, sponsored by Sen. Randi Becker (R-Eatonville) and passed by lawmakers during the 2017 state legislative session, clarifies the definition of “home” for telemedicine services that qualify for reimbursement by Medicaid and commercial insurers. Under the legislation, “home” no longer applies only when patients are physically in their home but will also include “any location determined by the individual receiving the service.” This change will take effect Jan. 1, 2018. Gov. Inslee signed the bill into law on May 5.

“We are pleased to see our state’s elected officials support innovative solutions to health care access by improving access to telemedicine services,” said WSMA President Shane Macaulay, MD, a practicing radiologist. “SB 5436 is another important step toward ensuring that people in all areas of our state get the care they need.”

The WSMA has supported previous legislation passed by the Legislature to improve patients’ access to health care through telemedicine. In 2015, the Legislature established a health insurance reimbursement policy for services delivered through telemedicine. The legislation established “originating sites” for telemedicine services that included hospitals, rural health centers, federally qualified health centers, health care providers’ officers, community mental health centers, skilled nursing facilities and renal dialysis centers.

In 2016, the Legislature added the patient’s home as an originating site, which provided for reimbursement for telemedicine services when the patient is at home. The Legislature also established the Washington State Telehealth Collaborative to develop recommendations to improve access to these services.

“Telemedicine is an important tool for addressing the health care needs of Washington citizens, especially in rural and underserved communities that continue to face a severe shortage of primary care physicians and specialists,” said Jennifer Hanscom, the WSMA’s executive director and CEO. “We must look at multiple solutions, including not only telemedicine but also training more physicians, working to retain our resident physicians in state and making sure that physicians can afford to continue caring for patients.”

The WSMA also applauds passage this spring of House Bill 1337, which calls for the adoption of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact that allows physicians to receive an expedited license to practice medicine in member states. Gov. Inslee signed the bill into law on May 5. With the enactment of this legislation, Washington will join 19 other states, including Idaho and Montana, as members of the compact. The compact is another important tool for increasing access to health care for individuals in underserved or rural areas, in part by allowing patients to more easily consult medical experts across state lines through the use of telemedicine technologies.

About the WSMA
The Washington State Medical Association is the only organization that represents the interests and priorities of all physicians, resident physicians, medical students and physician assistants in Washington state. Our more than 10,000 members stand together, across disciplines and practice types, to influence public policy impacting health care delivery and shape the future of the profession. The WSMA has advocated on behalf of the House of Medicine more than 125 years. Our vision is to make Washington state the best place to practice medicine and receive care.

Media Contact: Graham Short, Associate Director of Communications