Iowa Senate approves telehealth expansion

Legislation headed to governor

The Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Legislation is on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk that would expand access to telemedicine, especially in rural areas facing challenges attracting and retaining health care professionals.

House File 2305, approved by the Iowa Senate by a 49-0 margin on Tuesday, would require a health insurer to provide the same coverage for covered services — including mental health services — whether they are provided in person or by telehealth.

Increasing coverage of telehealth, sometimes referred to as telemedicine, would increase access to health care, especially in specialty areas — such as psychiatry — backers said, and numerous services would become available to Iowans regardless of address if insurers provide the same reimbursement whether care is delivered face-to-face or via video conferencing.

“Telehealth services are growing in this state, especially in rural areas like mine,” said Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, the bill’s floor manager, who urged senators to reject any changes to the House bill so the legislation could proceed to the governor for her expected signature.

“This bill is necessary to make sure that insurance covers these services just as if they were delivered in person,” Guth added.

Arcade prizes

In other action, senators voted 44-5 to send legislation to Gov. Kim Reynolds aimed at bringing the popular arcade chain Dave & Buster’s to Iowa by raising the current cap of $100 up to a new level of $950 on prizes that can be redeemed at businesses that operate arcades.

Final passage of Senate File 2333 came after senators agreed to remove language that specified that the maximum prize change is “only for” an amusement concession conducted at a facility that is at least 15,000 square feet — a change that Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said opens the bill’s coverage to more businesses in Iowa.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, one of five “no” votes on the bill, expressed concern that removing the square-foot language potentially could open up the state to widespread gaming activity similar to the Iowa Lottery-operated TouchPlay machines before the enterprise was halted.

“To me, this is a significant expansion of gambling in the state,” Hogg said.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, agreed, noting that SF 2333 was opposed by state-licensed gambling casinos that don’t want additional competition.

But Dawson said he’s not seen any conflict in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area where Dave & Buster’s establishments operate on the west side of the Missouri River and three Iowa casinos operate on the river’s east side.

“It’s pretty far-fetched to say this is an expansion of gambling. This is Happy Joe’s. This is Chuck E. Cheese,” Dawson said.

“This is not an expansion of gambling in the state of Iowa. This has nothing to do with that. This is just for fun-loving and for kids.”

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said the bill merely would up the ante on prizes offered at affected businesses — upgrading from stuffed animals to iPads.

Besides, he said, Iowa has gone “too far down the road to start talking about restrictions on gaming,” with the likelihood more expansion might be on the horizon if sports betting gets approved.

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