House passes bill reducing barriers to telehealth
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House passed a bill Friday that would make coronavirus-related expansions to telehealth services permanent through state statute.
House Bill 3498, introduced by Rep. Deb Conroy, a Villa Park Democrat, aims to reduce barriers in access to virtual and telehealth services and would bring standards for virtual care in line with those for physical health services.
Conroy said that access to telehealth, which became a necessity for many Illinoisians during the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, would bring lasting benefits in managing chronic health conditions.
"Over the last year, we've seen firsthand evidence that telehealth preserves quality and safety, meets individual patient needs, decreases health care disparities, and protects public health," Conroy said Friday.
Additionally, Conroy said, telehealth legislation passed by the state and federal government last year has allowed health care providers to "make significant, rapid investment in telehealth technology."
"Allowing patients to receive health care services through telehealth, whether it be in their home or another safe and convenient location, reduces and eliminates barriers that worsen health care disparities," she added.
The bill, which is supported by a coalition of over 35 health care providers, institutions and advocacy groups from around the state, would prohibit geographic or facility restrictions on telehealth services and allows patients to be treated via telehealth in their home.
The bill also would protect patients from being charged any additional fees by insurance providers for accessing telehealth services. Patients also would not be required to prove any sort hardship or access barrier to receive telehealth services.
According to information from the Coalition to Protect Telehealth Services, medical providers such as the University of Chicago Medicine "provided very few" services via phone or video before the pandemic, but between March and July of last year, the group provided nearly 30,000 telephone visits and more than 60,000 audio-video visits.
According to a news release, telehealth usage has remained at a persistent level even as in-person visits have resumed and have led to a reduction in missed patient visits.
Danny Chun, spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Telehealth Services, said the bill is "critically important" to ensure continued access to telehealth following the pandemic.
Chun said Gov. J.B. Pritzker has issued several successive 90-day protections for telehealth services, but he stressed that protecting services through state statute would be necessary to allow providers to continue to provide care through telehealth.
"We want to ensure that these great benefits continue after the pandemic," Chun said. "We have seen tremendous investment in these services, but we need some certainty about coverage and payments (for these services)."
The bill passed with no votes against in House and now moves to the Senate.