Whiteford plan improving access to telehealth advances to House floor

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Bipartisan plan makes preventative and routine health care more accessible for Michigan patients in COVID-19 era

A plan introduced by state Rep. Mary Whiteford, of Casco Township, to improve access to health care for Michigan patients via telehealth was approved Wednesday by the House Ways & Means Committee.

Under current law, telemedicine visits between patients and health care providers must be done in real time. The bipartisan package of bills would change the law to allow patient data in the form of video and images to be stored and forwarded to providers.

“During this unprecedented time, when patients are unable to visit a health care provider, telehealth is more necessary than ever before,” said Whiteford, a registered nurse. “This change to Michigan law gives doctors the time to thoroughly analyze data and test results and respond to patients at a later time.”

Barriers prior to the COVID-19 era included limited access to transportation and lack of available providers in a geographic area, which have both affected patients in Michigan’s rural communities. But now, in the height of the COVID-19 era, many patients are unable to access routine and preventative health care, and others are too high-risk to leave their homes. Whiteford said increased use of telemedicine in Michigan is the answer.

Whiteford’s bill specifically, House Bill 5416, allows Medicaid to pay for telemedicine visits when a patient is at home or in school. Currently, a patient is required to go to a specific health facility to have a telehealth visit covered by Medicaid.

Other bills in the package allow remote patient monitoring to be covered by Medicaid. This would allow doctors to analyze data gathered by patients using a monitoring device – such as blood sugar, blood pressure or their heart rate –when assessing the health of their patient during a telehealth visit.

HBs 5412-5416 received unanimous support from the committee and now move to be further considered on the House floor.

Rep. Whiteford testifies in support of her bill before the House Ways and Means Committee. She is joined by fellow bill package sponsor Rep. Hank Vaupel.