Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, telemedicine in Houston has increased in popularity due to its ease of access for patients of all ages. Health care locations across the Greater Houston Area responded to the disruptions of everyday life by making virtual visits to the doctor part of a regular routine for many Houstonians.
While there are some challenges presented by video visits, there are also various benefits, such as alleviated travel costs, quicker access to quality healthcare, and missing less time at work. In some instances, telehealth can assist urgent care patients if they have no means of getting to a hospital. However, patients new to the system wonder if their insurance will cover telemedicine services. To learn more about this, we put together a comprehensive guide below.
Is Telemedicine Legal in Texas?
Yes, the Texan government passed a telehealth parity law in 1997, and private payers cover telemedicine in the same way they cover in-person appointments. The law was initially enacted due to the large rural population and shortage of healthcare workers, but it required an in-person exam to establish a relationship between the patient and physician.
The reason behind the restriction was that the Texas government did not view telemedicine as a replacement for in-person visits. Public opinion began to change in 2015 when Teladoc went to court for the right to provide prescriptions via telemedicine services.
More changes came in 2017 when Senate Bill 1107 dismissed the policy that Texans needed the in-person exam to start telemedicine. With more bills being passed in favor of virtual visits, 2019 was a big year for telehealth providers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid also started expanding telemedicine services and, in 2020, the expansion continued to open up for Medicare participants thanks to the 1135 Waiver.
What Are the Guidelines for Telehealth in Texas?
Senate Bill 1107 contains the information on the rules and regulations for providers to practice telemedicine services, and the Texas Medical Board enforces that the healthcare professionals abide by them.
As mentioned before, the bill dropped the requirement that a provider-patient connection had to be made in-person first. This means that health care professionals no longer had to introduce telemedicine services to exclusively existing patients, and now, new patients could reach out and request to schedule an appointment virtually without needing to meet in the office.
Under Texas Medicaid, the following healthcare providers are eligible to offer virtual visits:
- Physician Assistant
- Nurse Practitioner
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRNs)
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Certified Nutrition Specialist
- Licensed Dietician
- Licensed Professional Counselor
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- Licensed Psychological Associate
- Provisionally Licensed Psychologist
Additionally, the following subjects can be covered via telemedicine:
- Data transmission
- Diabetes management
- Hypertension management
- Pharmacologic management
- Psychiatry diagnosis
- Outpatient visits
The Future of Telemedicine After the Pandemic
Telemedicine visits have the potential to level access to health care across socioeconomic boundaries. Since Texas has one of the largest uninsured populations on record, closing the health care gap is an essential step for the future of the state.
Outside of Texas, two US senators introduced the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act to add two more years in Medicare covering telehealth services. One of the legislators, Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, presented another bipartisan bill to permanently expand access to cover telemedicine visits.
Since the events of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers have made great strides in improving their technology to keep the population safe while treating other conditions. Investments in being more flexible have made health care easier to access and encouraged patients to take the first step in improving their health.
With the upward trend of telehealth, the availability of telemedicine in Houston has a great chance of becoming a permanent fixture in our everyday lives.
As an advocate for human rights and correcting the wrongs of socioeconomic inequalities, I support the movement to expand telemedicine services to give everyone better access to health care. Since before my work began in the “Ellis Island of Houston,” my goal to serve the under-served has been my number one priority.