Don’t Rewind the Clock on Telemedicine, TMA To Tell Congressional Committee
By Joey Berlin



This week, one of the Texas Medical Association’s go-to authorities on telemedicine will talk to congressional lawmakers about the future of remote care and what it needs to be successful – as well as tout Texas’ progress in regulating it. 

Austin psychiatrist Thomas Kim, MD, will speak Wednesday to the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee’s Health Subcommittee, chaired by Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin). The committee’s hearing on “Charting the Path Forward for Telehealth” will begin at 1 pm (CT) Wednesday.

In his testimony, Dr. Kim plans to stress the importance of  making sure robust broadband is available across the country. Among other points in his virtual remarks:

  • Telehealth is a skill for physicians to master, and when doctors become skilled in using it, they will use it when it’s appropriate.
  • Returning to pre-COVID-19 pandemic complexities surrounding regulations or payment for telemedicine would undercut its value going forward.
  • The legislative history of telemedicine in Texas shows that although regulating it properly is a long road, lawmakers can make progress without reinventing the wheel.

The Texas Legislature passed a law in 2017 confirming that telemedicine is the practice of medicine. Legislation from 2019 led to what Dr. Kim calls “service parity,” establishing that insurers could cover any service they wanted, with the understanding that it didn’t matter how the service was delivered, as long as it met regulatory expectations. And during this year’s state legislative session, TMA is pushing to make permanent the payment parity for telemedicine that came in on a temporary basis during the pandemic.

The vehicle to make that happen is House Bill 980 by Rep. Arthur Fierro (D-El Paso), which would establish that health plans must pay for a covered service delivered via telemedicine at the same rate they would pay for the service delivered in-person. HB 980 is currently pending in the House Insurance Committee, but TMA Vice President for Advocacy Dan Finch says there’s hope the bill could be voted out when the committee meets Tuesday.


Expanded broadband nears Senate passage

Other important measures to move telemedicine forward in Texas have found considerable traction. On Monday, one of those – House Bill 5 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) to expand broadband coverage across Texas – took a huge step forward, moving to the verge of passage.

The Senate Transportation Committee approved HB 5 and recommended it for the chamber’s Local & Uncontested Calendar, where bills are rubber-stamped by the Senate in rapid-fire fashion. If it’s placed there and approved, HB 5 will head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Another TMA-backed measure, House Bill 4 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo), would make permanent some of the temporary allowances for expanded telemedicine use that were put in place because of the pandemic. HB 4 has passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

Just one First Tuesdays left

Your last chance to join the virtual “White Coat Takeover” is just one week away, when TMA hosts its final remote First Tuesdays at the Capitol on May 4. By then, only 27 days will remain in this session. Register for free today to get an update from TMA’s lobby team on what issues and bills are still in play, and what you can do to help in the final stretch before the legislature adjourns.

Easy ways to get involved in TMA advocacy 

Your participation is a vital component of our legislative success. Join our advocacy efforts today. Besides taking part in First Tuesdays, here are some other ways you can help.

Stay up to date on bills TMA is following closely. And take advantage of other opportunities to get involved with our advocacy efforts.

Last Updated On

April 26, 2021

Originally Published On

April 26, 2021

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Telemedicine | Texas legislation

Joey Berlin

Associate Editor

(512) 370-1393

Joey Berlin is associate editor of Texas Medicine. His previous work includes stints as a reporter and editor for various newspapers and publishing companies, and he’s covered everything from hard news to sports to workers’ compensation. Joey grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the University of Kansas. He lives in Austin.

More stories by Joey Berlin