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March 21, 2020

Physicians Urge Governor to Allow Telemedicine Payment Parity Bill to Go Into Effect Immediately

SEATTLE - The Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) and Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (WCAAP) are urging Gov. Jay Inslee and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to direct insurance companies and state payers to honor parity billing under Senate Bill 5385 for telemedicine services, effective immediately. SB 5385, which passed in the state legislature on March 9, requires that physicians be paid for telemedicine services at the same rate as if those services had been provided in person, but those provisions do not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2021.

“It is essential that families have uninterrupted access to preventive and acute health care during the COVID-19 outbreak,” says Elizabeth Meade, MD, FAAP, president of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is especially important for families with very young children. We want patients who truly need to be seen in clinic, like children under age two who need vaccines, to come in, and clinics have implemented strict protocols to maintain a safe and healthy environment during this outbreak. But there are patients who can and should be cared for at home. With telemedicine parity, patients for whom telemedicine is appropriate can receive care from their homes to slow community spread of illness while helping alleviate the financial peril practices are facing.”

“With the governor’s recent action to stop elective surgeries and non-emergent procedures, it is critical that we stay in contact with our patients should an emergent situation develop; especially for our chronic care, vulnerable, and high-risk patients” said William K. Hirota, MD, president of the Washington State Medical Association.

Dr. Hirota added, “Physicians and practices need to be able to employ telehealth for their COVID-19 response as well to allow for safe screening and to direct patients to the right site of care for their medical needs. Without the flexibilities provided by telehealth, patients will end up in our emergency rooms and urgent care clinics, adding to the demands on these facilities and risking exposure to COVID-19 or other communicable diseases."

Washington state’s health care system is already feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is imperative that we take immediate steps to reduce the burden of the outbreak and protect our health care system. Many health care practices are facing financial jeopardy as our communities practice social distancing and avoid visiting health care providers for care, and as surgeries and elective procedures are postponed to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers fighting COVID-19. At the same time, it is crucial that practices be able to provide a safe environment and continuity of care for their patients.

“We need payment parity now, not tomorrow,” says Dr. Hirota. “Just as we’re worried for our patients’ and our colleagues’ health, we’re worried about the health of our smaller practices. Opening up access to care delivery pathways can help relieve some of the financial strain these practices are under.”

“If physician practices downsize or close, more care will shift to hospitals that are already beyond capacity,” says Dr. Meade. “Patients will go without care for minor ailments and illnesses, resulting in worse health outcomes down the road. And critical routine care such as immunizations may be skipped, with potentially disastrous consequences.”

For media inquiries, contact:

Graham Short
WSMA Communications
206.956.3633 or gfs@wsma.org

About the Washington State Medical Association
The Washington State Medical Association represents more than 11,000 physicians, physician assistants, resident physicians and medical students in Washington state. The WSMA has advocated on behalf of the house of medicine for more than 125 years. Our vision is to make Washington state the best place to practice medicine and receive care.

About the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
The Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for the health and well-being of Washington's children and their families since 1934. The WCAAP represents over 1100 pediatric health care providers from across Washington State. Our mission is to optimize the health and well-being of children and their families while advancing pediatric care. WCAAP frames and leads the public discussion on child health issues, advances public policy to benefit children, and empowers pediatricians to provide quality medical care.

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