Arizona Governor Doug Ducey today signed into law a first-in-the-nation telehealth reform developed by the Goldwater Institute that allows people to get help from their healthcare providers directly on their smartphones, computers, and landline phones.
“Telehealth expands access to medical services for low-income families and those living in rural areas, protects vulnerable populations, and allows snowbirds visiting our state to receive telemedicine from their home state,” Gov. Ducey said. “Patients and medical professionals know what’s best for their needs, and we’re working to make sure they have access to those services.”
The Goldwater Institute has called on all states to expand access to telehealth as a powerful way to put patients first and supercharge American healthcare. It was only during COVID-19 that rules preventing telehealth were temporarily relaxed so that in-person appointments would be limited for safety’s sake during the pandemic. In-person appointments are frequently not necessary to deliver the type of care needed, and telehealth can help provide that care to a patient from the convenience and comfort of their own home. And that’s been a game-changer for many Americans.
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated like never before the benefits of telehealth — and has shown us just how irrational the past rules limiting telehealth were. But it shouldn’t take a pandemic to transform healthcare for the better, and expanded telehealth options shouldn’t go away when COVID-19’s threat subsides. We must continue to work toward a healthcare system that meets healthcare needs flexibly, by harnessing the potential of 21st-century information and expertise.
Arizona’s new law (Arizona House Bill 2454) is a first-in-the-nation effort backed by the Goldwater Institute that allows registered healthcare providers who are in good standing in other states to provide services to Arizonans via telehealth. So if you need, say, behavioral health services, speech therapy, or care for a chronic condition, you can receive that care via telehealth more easily. While this proposal will add convenience for patients, it will do so much more — transforming the healthcare delivery landscape, allowing for the reimagining of how care is delivered.
Federal healthcare programs plus 41 states took steps to make telehealth more readily available during the pandemic. These modified requirements included allowing out-of-state physicians to provide telehealth services, eliminating the requirement for preexisting provider-patient relationships, and allowing for both audio and/or video telehealth options, among other reforms. Now, this Arizona reform builds upon this demonstrated success, supercharging healthcare access by using the power of technology and medical expertise in ways that have not yet been fully realized or, in some cases, yet unimagined.
The opportunities for transformation are all around us: Arizona’s reform revolutionizes:
- Rural care. Most states have exceptional care available in larger urban areas, with some drawing patients from around the world. But these same states almost always face shortages of providers in rural areas, making it difficult for their residents to access needed care without travel and the associated expenses. Too often, patients with limited access either delay care or forgo it altogether, causing further deterioration in one’s health. Arizona’s telehealth reform will make it easier for those patients to get needed care more often and in a timely manner.
- Hospitals. Most hospitals lack the ability to hire a multitude of specialists, but HB 2454 provides an important pathway for medical facilities to provide needed expertise and assistance without having to have it in-house. For example, should a patient in a rural area suffer a serious stroke, a community hospital may be able to, in real time, have the patient’s vital statistics shared and monitored with a leading specialist at another facility across the country, obtaining medical guidance that had been previously unavailable. In this way, hospitals can re-tool their services and offerings in a way that better allows financial flexibility and can better meet the needs of their patients.
- Insurer policies. While telehealth reimbursement policies have been dramatically expanded during COVID-19, many of the policies that limited coverage of these services are on track to revert to the pre-COVID status quo, absent federal and state policy and legislative reforms. Because the policies that govern the federal healthcare programs are often followed by private insurance policies, HB 2454 offers an opportunity to untether these coverage and payment decisions, encouraging new payment models that work better for families.
In the past, lawmakers in many states have imposed one-size-fits-all rules that prevent medical innovation and restrict the availability of healthcare services to patients in need — and those rules left Americans in a bind. But Arizona’s reform is a rejection of the business-as-usual approach to healthcare delivery and allows providers to put patients first.
Telehealth holds enormous potential for healthcare access, and while there are no magic bullets to healthcare reform, HB 2454 will help Arizona realize the potential of innovative, patient-centric medical care through the use of already-available technology and communication. This is exactly the kind of bold thinking and action that lawmakers across the country have the authority — and obligation — to embrace and pursue.