New law makes telehealth expansion permanent

On Monday, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill to expand access to telehealth services that were originally extended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation was carried by Rep. Rhonda Knudsen, a Culbertson Republican. It permanently lifts requirements that were paused during the pandemic, like an established relationship between a patient and doctor in several cases, as well as restrictions on geographic proximity and location restrictions for patients. The bill also allows for additional types of technology to be used, such as audio-only calls.

“Telehealth services are transforming how care is delivered in Montana, particularly in our frontier and rural communities,” Gianforte said in a press release. “This new, commonsense law eliminates unnecessary, burdensome regulations, increases flexibility for patients and providers, and makes health care more accessible to more Montanans. If these telehealth regulations weren’t needed as we confront the pandemic, they’re not needed as we move forward.”

Additionally, the law extends telehealth coverage requirements to public employee benefit plans and self-insured student health plans.

“If the current regulations on telehealth weren’t needed in the midst of a global pandemic, they weren’t necessary in the first place,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said in the same release. “With advancements in medical and communications technologies, many primary care needs can be met through the practice of telehealth. This is a commonsense bill to increase Montanans’ access to health care.

The state’s Republican Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Troy Downing supported the bill.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an expansion of telemedicine in our state,” Downing said in the release. “These new tools are particularly useful to those in rural communities, our elderly, and our veterans. House Bill 43 will expand access to healthcare for all Montanans.”

The bill did not receive a single negative vote as it moved through the Legislature. The restrictions were first lifted by a directive issued last year by former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

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