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The Senate passes telehealth care bill

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester

FRANKFORT – The doctor will see you now – online.

The Senate passed a measure today to encourage the practice of incorporating new communication technologies when treating patients, broadly known as telehealth. Senate Bill 112 states that a doctor would be able to log in from anywhere in the world to treat a Kentucky resident. The physician, however, would still have to be licensed in Kentucky.

“Telemedicine is gradually changing the way medicine is delivered,” said sponsor Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester. “Telemedicine allows providers to implement cost-saving strategies such as video conference follow-ups and remote patient monitoring that decreases hospitalizations and increases the quality of care.”

He said it also connects patients with specialists that may not have offices in the area and reduces the burden of long commutes to see doctors. He said that would be beneficial in rural communities that lack such specialists.

“Telemedicine has been proven to save money where implemented,” Alvarado said.

He cited a study which found savings of 7.7 percent to 13.3 percent per patient, per quarter, for chronically ill Medicare recipients. Alvarado added a telemedicine option available to employees of Kentucky has already saved the state $2.5 million.

Alvarado said SB 112 would pave the way for Kentucky to implement a telemedicine option for Medicaid recipients.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, introduced Senate Floor Amendment 3 which would prohibit telehealth from being used in the performance of an abortion. He said “webcam abortions” have been outlawed in 19 states. The amendment was adopted by a 32-2 vote.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, voted for the bill but expressed concern that the measure didn’t provide a mechanism for health care providers and health insurers to negotiate reimbursement rates for telehealth visits. He said he was concerned the insurers would be forced to pay the same amount as they do for office visits.

SB 112 passed by 36-0 vote. The measure now goes to the House for further consideration.