New legislation gives out-of-state students access to virtual health care

Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

In a world where zoom meetings and remote work fill students calendars, it is only recently that healthcare in Idaho has made the same virtual shift. 

Recent legislation gives out-of-state students the opportunity to access mental and behavioral health care from providers “who are not physically present in a patient’s geographical area,” according to House Bill 61 statement of purpose.

“I had a family member who was in severe need of behavioral health help. I found myself driving to Provo, Utah, once a week to get them the help they needed,” said District 30 Rep. Julianne Young while presenting House Bill 61 in the Feb. 28 House meeting. “That provider even after we had established that patient provider relationship, was unable to practice telehealth service in the state of Idaho.”

With the recent passing of House Bill 61, out-of-state students with primary health care providers outside of Idaho, in states like Washington or California, have the option of accessing health care virtually. 

Its July 1 effect date gives those living in Idaho interstate health care, so long as the provider goes through Idaho’s provider registration process.

The 40-minute discussion of the bill during the Feb. 28 House meeting brought questions and concerns over the authority to prescribe drugs virtually and the registration process for providers.  

Telehealth trends show a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, according to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting with health care practitioners via video chat or phone call became a needed option for an influx of patients. 

“I still question the wisdom in not requiring providers to have an Idaho license … because our standard of care goes away,” said District 24 Rep. Chenele Dixon in the Feb. 28 meeting. 

Before the passing of this bill, providers who wished to give care to an Idaho resident would need an Idaho health care provider license. 

“If I had access to an in-person provider, I would pick in-person every time. The reality is that not everyone does, and that is why we have this legislation before us,” Rep. Young said. 

Until this legislation, scheduling an appointment with a mental or behavioral health practitioner virtually meant only booking with health care providers that hold Idaho licenses.

[A student logs onto the Zoom home screen for a virtual meeting.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Legislators looked to Florida’s model of virtual care to see how health care providers operating outside the state could provide virtual care to Idahoans. Florida’s solution was requiring health care providers to register with the state.

Rep. Young emphasized that the requirement for out-of-state providers to register with the state of Idaho gives everyone a “mechanism for accountability.” Despite a health care provider operating outside of Idaho, the out-of-state provider must abide by Idaho’s community standard of care when giving care to Idaho patients virtually.

“People are not rooted in one place as they used to be, and one situation that we haven’t contemplated is folks who come into Idaho that have a provider they want to keep. This bill gives them that option,” said Kate Hoss, testifying on behalf of Cicero Action

For Boise’s large population of college students, the bill offers out-of-state students the option to keep seeing their primary health care provider via virtual care.

“We have learned that the benefits of telehealth are growing now for those in underserved or rural communities,” said Lupe Wissel testifying on behalf of Idaho’s American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). “Those who have experienced additional barriers in seeking care for themselves and their families can now find that help with telehealth.”

The legislature isn’t the only ones experiencing these changes. Many commercial health plans are broadening their coverage to include virtual health services, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) website.

“We hear all the time that this is an unprecedented mental health crisis, and this [virtual health care] is a tool in combating that,” Hoss said.

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