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– A Washington lawmaker is preparing to resubmit bills aimed at mandating payment parity for telehealth and expand school-based telehealth programs.

The two bills were part of a four-bill package submitted in 2019 by Republican State Sen. Randi Becker, a longtime advocate of connected health. They ultimately failed to reach a vote, though two others – one establishing training procedures for healthcare providers using telemedicine and another targeting provider credentialing – were passed and signed into into law.

Becker told a local newspaper that payment parity would compel more healthcare providers to offer services in the state and prod those already in the state to try out virtual care technology.

“I expect that it’ll go through this year. It’s happening in all sorts of other states,” she told the Nisqually Valley News. “We need that to get doctors willing to invest in the technologies to see patients that way.”

The idea of mandating that healthcare payers cover telehealth services at the same rate they cover in-person services isn’t entirely popular, with payers often arguing that they should be the ones to set reimbursement rates. Some 42 states and the District of Columbia have laws that set guidelines for telehealth reimbursement, according to a recent report from the law firm of Foley & Lardner, but only about a dozen states have enacted payment parity laws, while others have created guidelines by which payers and providers can negotiate specific rates for telehealth services.

Last October, California became the latest state to enact payment parity, passing a bill that requires payers to reimburse providers for telehealth services “on the same basis and to the same extent” that they cover in-person services.

The second telehealth bill expected to be filed by Becker would, based on the language of last year’s bill, direct the University of Washington to use a virtual platform to train school staff on how to identify students at risk of suicide, substance abuse or violence. UW would use the Project ECHO program, creating a hub-and-spoke telemedicine platform so that participants could log on for regularly scheduled interactive training sessions hosted by experts at the university.

Also, the bill mandates that all school nurses, school social workers, school psychologists and school counselors complete a training program of at least three hours on identifying at-risk students that includes guidance on using telemedicine. That program would also be incorporated into the certification process for teachers.

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