Bringing Health Care to You
Telemedicine, the practice of doing certain types of health care visits and consultations over high definition video chat, is a common sense technology that makes our high quality health care system more accessible to all Minnesotans, regardless of where they live. Utilizing this technology has been demonstrated to dramatically improve access to many forms of care, can significantly improve the health outcomes for patients, and saves lives.
While many health care providers already use this technology to serve patients, the scope of its use is limited due to the fact that public and private health plan reimbursement for telemedicine services is inconsistent and limited to only certain types of care, from certain locations. For example, Minnesota Medical Assistance does not cover telemedicine services for registered nurse diabetes educators , even though patient education about healthy eating, monitoring blood sugar levels, and reducing other health care risks can greatly improve health outcomes for patients with diabetes.
Our legislation would expand the use of telemedicine in Minnesota by making sure telemedicine visits are treated the same way as in-person health care, expanding coverage consistently across all health plans. As our state faces looming shortages of health care specialists in Greater Minnesota and we focus on managing the growth of health care costs, this legislation just makes sense.
Through telemedicine, Minnesotans in rural areas can access specialists, mental health providers, emergency rooms, and intensive care that would otherwise be unavailable in their local communities. The technology can be a health care game changer for Greater Minnesota where it can be difficult to attract specialists due to the low density of patients, and high level trauma centers or intensive care units are few and far between. The National Conference of State Legislatures declared that one of the best ways to address an unchecked trend of provider shortages in rural communities is to utilize telemedicine to “revolutionize rural health care.” Two separate Minnesota workforce working groups have recommended telemedicine expansion as a key strategy to maximizing our current health care workforce and improving access to care in areas where it is lacking.
For those living in Greater Minnesota, you know that a trip to a specialist office often means taking time off work and several hours of driving. Transferring a loved one from the local hospital to an ICU in the Metro adds hassle and expense to an already traumatic situation. Telemedicine programs have already saved Minnesotans hundreds of hours of time off, thousands of miles of driving, and most importantly, saved hundreds of lives.
Because telemedicine supports such a wide range of health care services, patients should be able to access an almost limitless range of specialists and consultations, but are unable to do so because of current policies. Telemedicine visits for certain specialists like audiologists are not currently reimbursed by health plans, and because areas like Duluth are not considered health care shortage areas, specialty appointments like the sleep medicine consultations for chronically ill patients of Gillette Children’s Specialty Services are not reimbursed, meaning a six hour round trip for a family and child already in pain and under stress.
Telemedicine could make a major difference in urban areas, as well, but also faces barriers from existing policy. Certain specialties, like mental health physicians, are in short supply in the Twin Cities just as they are in Greater Minnesota. Telemedicine expansion will help extend physician coverage and maximize our health care workforce across the state to address shortfalls like those in mental health.
We must also remember that this is the age of resources at our fingertips and health care should be no different. Recent surveys from Minnesota’s health systems show that up to thirty percent of patients in Greater Minnesota wouldn’t seek out coverage without telemedicine, and if that were to happen, patients end up being seen in emergency rooms and ICUs instead of clinic offices.
Any way you look at it, this bi-partisan legislation makes sense for Minnesota, will help make us a healthier state, and will help propel Minnesota’s health care system into the 21st Century. We urge our colleagues in the State Senate and the State House to support this bill.
Senator Rosen is a member of the Republican Party from Vernon Center and Ranking Minority Member of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee. Senator Clausen is a member of the DFL Party from Apple Valley and Vice Chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. If you want to learn more about this bill contact Senator Rosen at 651-296-6996 or Senator Clausen at 651-296-4120.