The “State” of Telehealth: Oregon

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Oregon Telehealth Bill Proposes Parity for Telehealth Services

On January 11, 2021, Oregon Senator Lee Beyer and Rep. Rachel Prusak, introduced Senate Bill 11 (“SB11”)[1], which would permanently extend parity for telehealth services with in-clinic care services. Parity for telehealth services was originally proposed in response to Governor Kate Brown’s March 23, 2020 Executive Order 20-22 which ordered a temporary halt on nonurgent procedures to preserve personal protective gear for frontline workers. Telehealth services provided clinical providers with an opportunity to maintain revenue by allowing individuals to seek care from the safety of their own homes. In line with the move to telehealth services, emergency payment policies enacted by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services and payers’ voluntary agreement allowed providers to receive the same rates for telemedicine services as they would for in-clinic services.

SB11, along with its companion legislation, HB2508, in the Oregon House of Representatives, has received strong support from medical providers, like Rep. Prusak, a Board Certified Registered Nurse and Family Nurse Practitioner, who believe that by extending parity for telehealth services, the state will “be able to reach, and extend access, to citizens in rural and urban areas with mobility issues”. SB11 follows recent trends to make permanent changes to telehealth exceptions allowed during the public health emergency (the “Pandemic”), as discussed in our December 7, 2020 Blog Post, “Permanent Expansion of Medicare Telehealth Services” and recent “State” of Telehealth blog series.

Notwithstanding the strong support for SB11 in the healthcare provider community, healthcare payers have expressed concern regarding the increased costs attendant to reimbursing a “virtual” patient telehealth visits at the same level that in-person visits are reimbursed.[2] For example, Kristen Downey, Senior Manager, Digital Advocacy and Government Affairs, Providence St. Joseph Health, Oregon, suggests that reimbursing telehealth services – which may include phone calls, emails and texts between patients and providers – at the same level that in-office/in-person patient care visits are reimbursed would increase payer costs without a concomitant increase in value.[3] In response, those in support of SB11 note that while telehealth services are different from in-person services – even SB11’s sponsor, Senator Pursak, acknowledges that telehealth is not appropriate in all situations – the main purpose of SB11 is to create flexibility for citizens looking to receive medical services.

Should SB11 be passed, Oregon would join states like Washington, New Jersey, Arizona, that are currently in the process of enacting payment parity legislation for its citizens. We will continue to monitor the expansion of telehealth services in the state of Oregon, and other states across the nation in accordance with our “State” of Telehealth series.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Identified as House Bill 2508 (HB2508) upon introduction in in the House of Representatives by Rep. Prusak on January 11, 2021.

[2]Oregon telehealth bill has a legion of provider fans, but insurers raise cost concerns,” by Elizabeth Hayes, Portland Business Journal (February 10, 2021).

[3] Id.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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