Minnesota Hospital Association


February 25, 2015

Hospital legislation makes health care more accessible through telemedicine

New bill will expand insurance coverage to include telemedicine

Representatives of Minnesota hospitals stood with legislators today in support of legislation that will bring new access to high-quality, cost-effective health care to all of Minnesota’s most remote citizens. Sen. Julie Rosen (R – Vernon Center) and Rep. Tara Mack’s (R – Apple Valley) legislation would expand health insurance coverage to include telemedicine visits, coverage that is inconsistent currently.  

Telemedicine is an increasingly used technology to bring health care resources, including specialists, to people and communities that otherwise would have difficulty accessing them. The technology has been shown to increase access to health care services, improve health outcomes for patients and reduce health care costs.  

“Telehealth is a critical tool, not only for greater Minnesota but also for the entire state,” said Sen. Rosen, ranking member of the Senate Health and Human Services Finance Committee. “Whether allowing home-bound seniors to check in with their doctor or connecting rural clinics to physicians at emergency room trauma centers many miles away, these are technologies that are improving our state’s health care system.”  

In addition to keeping health care costs down for patients, health plans and employers while improving health outcomes through better access to care, telemedicine technology enables life-saving partnerships to take place. As just one example, several hospitals across Greater Minnesota have direct access to an interventional neurologist from St. Cloud Hospital’s Stroke Center, assisting in fast diagnosis and treatment decisions from highly trained specialists that can save lives.  

“This legislation seeks to promote greater adoption of and reimbursement for telemedicine services within Medicaid and private insurance,” said Rep. Mack, chair of the Health and Human Services Reform Committee. “There is no reason not to have uniformity across the state for these services and to treat them with similar value as in-person visits.”  

Currently, many of Minnesota’s health plans pay for certain telemedicine services. Coverage for these services, however, is not consistent across insurance companies and the types of providers eligible for reimbursement are too narrow.  

“Passing this bill would help us use this technology to bring a broader range of key care services to vulnerable patients. For example, we could provide crucial education about managing serious diseases, such as diabetes,” said Maureen Ideker, Director of Telemedicine for Essentia Health. “Additionally, telemedicine visits for patients living in assisted living or group homes are not covered under current policy, so they have to be taken to another site to receive telemedicine services or to a physical clinic, which can be very disruptive.”  

Existing telemedicine programs across the state have already made a dramatic impact in better access to health services and improving quality outcomes, like lower patient transfer and readmission rates, faster access to specialists, shorter hospitals stays and better survival rates. Avera Health delivers telemedicine services in multiple areas, including ICU, Emergency and Pharmacy, while Mille Lacs Health System provides critical tele-mental health access throughout its clinic network. For patients in Greater Minnesota where distance and specialist availability are limited, these are important health care quality improvements.  

“The best way for Minnesota to ‘jump start’ greater use of tele-health is to ensure that providers can rely on health plans to reimburse them for delivering care through this technology,” said Barbara Joers, President and CEO of Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. “By doing this, we will provide greater access to health care services and better utilize the workforce available statewide.”