Texas Makes Significant Strides to Expand Telehealth

On April 14, 2021, the Texas House passed House Bill 4 (the “Bill” or “HB4”), a telehealth bill seeking to make permanent the temporary waivers issued during the public health emergency (the “Pandemic”) to expand telemedicine. The Bill, sponsored by State Rep. Walter Thomas Price, IV, is intended to provide expansive coverage to Texas citizens and address the technology gaps that exist in more rural communities by incorporating audio-only services into the scope of the telehealth exceptions in the state.

The Bill follows the trend of recent legislation across the country by expanding the use of virtual health care services to address the underserved and more vulnerable Texas residents. HB4 provides for Medicaid reimbursement for certain services, including telemonitoring services for persons who have at least one specified health condition, such as pregnancy, heart disease, cancer and mental illness. The Bill also (i) establishes minimum standards to ensure a managed care organization provides Medicaid recipients sufficient access to certain services and (ii) authorizes a federally qualified health center to be reimbursed for the originating site facility fee and/or the distant site practitioner fee for a covered telemedicine or telehealth service provided  to a Medicaid recipient.

HB4 would require the executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (“HHSC”) to ensure that certain health care services can be provided through telehealth, telemedicine, telecommunications, or other  information technology by establishing policies and procedures that grant efficacy in the roll out of services.

Critics of HB4 believe that the Bill could reduce the quality of healthcare by allowing audio-only benefits to be provided for certain behavioral health services. As discussed in our earlier blog posts in the State of Telehealth series, critics fear that health practitioners may not be able to accurately assess a patient through audio-only technology.

Other critics say that while the Bill would make significant strides in the expansion of telehealth and telemedicine services, HB4 does not address the need for parity between in-person and telehealth care rendered by medical professionals. Critics argue that providing payment parity would help encourage more providers to use telehealth and telemedicine services.

HB4 now sits with the Senate healthcare committee for deliberation. We will continue to follow the Bill and other telehealth news that comes of Texas, and other states across the nation in accordance with our “State of Telehealth” series.