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The Biggest Trends in Telemedicine from 2015

2015 saw a stream of headlines and new policy victories for telemedicine. As we head into the new year, the future for telemedicine is looking bright. A recent report valued the U.S. telemedicine market at $572 million in 2014 and estimates the market to grow to $2.8 billion by 2022.

But we wouldn’t have gotten here without these 5 major developments in the field of telemedicine this year.

Here’s a quick review.

State Lawmakers Introduce 200+ Telemedicine Bills

2015 was a busy year for state legislatures in terms of regulating telemedicine, with all but eight states introducing at least one telemedicine bill this year, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures report. The grand total? More than 200 bills introduced across the country—now that’s spreading the word about telemedicine.

As it stands, 32 states and the District of Columbia have telemedicine parity laws that require telemedicine services to be reimbursed at the same rate as an office visit, and all states but Rhode Island offer some form of Medicaid reimbursement for telemedicine. Full parity for both coverage and reimbursement are offered by 23 states and D.C.

Federal Government Advocates for Telemedicine with New Medicare and VA Policies

The federal government introduced the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2015, which would modernize how Medicare reimburses telemedicine services in three phases over a four-year period. Similar bills were introduced in 2013 and 2014 but didn’t make the cut. Another bill recently introduced, the Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act would mandate Medicare coverage for telehealth services in eligible hospitals. Medicare reimbursed nearly $14 million for telemedicine services in 2014, according to a 2015 report.

Congress also introduced the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act of 2015, which could override state laws for telemedicine coverage for VA patients.

12 States Join Interstate Medical Licensure Compact

In May 2015, Alabama became the 7th state to pass the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, making the Compact official. The compact will help expand the reach of telemedicine delivery by facilitating medical license portability, or in other words, making it easier and faster for physicians to obtain licensure across state lines. This will allow more physicians to practice telemedicine outside of their home state and help break down state boundaries.

Medicare Approves New CPT codes for Telemedicine Coverage

As part of a final rule on payments for physicians in 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded the list of telehealth CPT codes to cover chronic care management and 7 different mental health services.

With the new Chronic Care Management code 99490, Medicare providers can now get reimbursed for coordinating care, reviewing patient data, creating care plans, or consulting chronic care patients via telehealth. The new CPT code significantly expands Medicare coverage for patients with chronic conditions and the ability of their physicians to remotely treat them.

CMS also added new CPT codes for telemental health, which now include psychoanalysis, family psychotherapy, prolonged evaluation so therapists can be compensated for sessions that run long, and psychological testing by computer, which is not a telemedicine code but will now be reimbursed.

Telemedicine Spreads Rapidly to Commercial Insurers, Retail Clinics, and Companies

UnitedHealthcare, a major U.S. insurance company, began offering coverage for telemedicine visits conducted by physicians in their network and made this service available to self-funded employer customers. Next year, this coverage will expand to people with employer-sponsored and individual plans. This is great news for everyone interested in telemedicine – as more commercial payers get on board, the barriers to telemedicine reimbursement will continue to break down.

Walgreens expanded the telemedicine component for its mobile app, which it launched in California and Michigan at the end of last year. Walgreen’s telemedicine effort has now reached 25 states as of the end of this year, providing patients with wider access to physicians. CVS also announced that it was looking into expanding its own telemedicine opportunities via CVS Health.

More employers are also beginning to offer on-site telemedicine to employees. A Towers Watson survey found that more than one-third of large U.S. companies now offer telemedicine services to their employees, with an additional 12% slated to join them in the next two years. According to the same survey, nearly 40% of companies with onsite health facilities planned to increase and enhance their services within two years.

2015 was a big year for telemedicine, bringing in sweeping changes for physicians, patients, and insurers alike. With 2016 on the horizon and telemedicine positioned for continuing explosive growth, it will be exciting to see what the new year will bring.

What was your health tech highlight of 2015? Tell us in the comments!

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