Around the country, states are embracing telemedicine as the new norm in primary and continuing care. One Philadelphia health care system reported a 20-fold increase in usage. In Pittsburgh, one hospital system reported usage quadrupling, and another went from an average of three to 100 appointments each day.
These numbers are even more impressive considering that Pennsylvania is one of just eight states without state laws governing telemedicine. During the pandemic, 47 states have expanded Medicaid coverage to telehealth or telemedicine services. And the federal government made huge strides when it cleared the way for Medicare patients to receive telemedicine services.
However, Pennsylvania’s leap forward in health care access and affordability looks like it will be short-lived—thanks to Governor Wolf’s decision to veto Senate Bill 857, the first telemedicine bill in Pennsylvania history.
Why would the governor veto a bill that sets standards for telemedicine in Pennsylvania, a potentially lifesaving option for patients and providers during the pandemic? Why would the governor reject a bill that could protect more patients and health care providers? Why would the governor veto a bill that could result in cost savings leading to more affordable care?
One word. Politics.
Planned Parenthood donated a total of $1.5 million to Wolf’s campaign in 2018 through direct donations, in-kind donations, and contributions to political action committees.
Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion advocates staunchly opposed the bill because it requires 57 drugs with serious safety concerns to be prescribed in person. These drugs are listed on the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy list and include a common abortion drug.
Even though these drugs are still available through traditional channels, the governor is willing to throw out the entire bill and ensure Pennsylvania remains one of just eight states with no standards for telemedicine. No standards means insurers and providers will be hesitant to meet the urgent demand for lifesaving virtual care.
Pennsylvania’s leap forward in health care access and affordability looks like it will be short-lived.
This is a HUGE missed opportunity, as Pennsylvanians’ mental health deteriorates in ongoing isolation, more doctors and nurses succumb to COVID-19 through workplace exposure, and doctor’s offices continue to financially struggle while non-essential surgeries remain on pause.
Enacting a legal framework around telemedicine now will give the health care system some certainty as they cope with the many impacts of the pandemic, and it will ensure we are better prepared for any resurgences of COVID-19.
Vetoing telemedicine due to special interests opposition to a single inconsequential carve-out is as illogical as closing cyber schools when all students are under a stay-at-home order. Governor Wolf has the ability to change course on both fronts and put the health and welfare of all Pennsylvanians first.