The Alabama House Health Committee voted to advance a bill that will set rules of the road for telehealth providers for the state of Alabama.

Senate Bill 272 (SB272) is sponsored by State Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook).

“The origin of this bill is April 19 of 2019,” Robert said. “I have been working on this since then. We tried to get the parties to come together then. We could not get concurrence there. We know what happened in 2020. During the pandemic using telehealth, we were able to bring in the best COVID doctors from across the state. We still could not get concurrence on how to get it together in 2021.

“There has been a lot of moving parts with this. We have worked nonstop from all around the state and some people from out of state.”

A member of the House Health committee said that it has taken effort for doctors to understand the purpose of this bill. Many were concerned about drug abuse. 

“I have a … son, and we have dealt with this 14 times through rehab,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to do anything to promote substance abuse.”

Roberts explained that SB272 does not allow a patient to see a telehealth physician “more than four times in a 12-month period for the same malady.”

After that, the patient must see their referring physician in person.

“Nothing in this bill restricts you from seeing a telehealth provider as many times as you wish," Robert continued. "But if you see a telehealth provider four times for the same malady, it is probably important to get in front of an actual doctor or nurse practitioner.”

“I think after five or six times you need to be seen face-to-face with a physician,” said Health Committee Chairman Paul Lee (R-Dothan).

Two lobbyists for the telehealth industry spoke against the requirement that a patient must cease seeing their telehealth practitioner after the fourth visit.

Claudia Tucker is with Teladoc Health.

“Ninety-five percent of this bill is good,” Tucker said. “The other 5% will have you at the bottom in the country.”

Mercer May, with the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), called the requirement “an unnecessary obstacle.

“We still have concerns with the four-visit limit," May said. "The way we are reading this, it is a hard cap. If they do not go to the referring physicians after four visits, then telehealth services have to stop. There are telemedicine companies that may not expand into Alabama because of this.”

Roberts said that the four-visit limit does not apply to mental health.

Tucker said that 46 other states have telehealth laws already in place.

“The average cost of a telehealth session is $45,” Tucker said. “The cost of an in-person visit is $175. This will save your state millions.”

The Health Committee voted to give SB272 a favorable report. It can now be considered by the full Alabama House of Representatives.

Tuesday will be day 27 of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session. There is a maximum of 30 days in a legislative session.

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