Texas House passes bill that would open up the way for D2C telemedicine

By Jonah Comstock

The Texas House of Representatives today passed House Bill 2697, a bill that would lift restrictions that have kept direct-to-consumer telemedicine companies from operating freely in Texas. The vote was unanimous. The bill, which was already passed in the Senate, will be returned to the Senate for concurrence and then sent to Governor Greg Abbott for a signature. Abbott is expected to sign the bill.

The bill – introduced by Representative Four Price and negotiated between the Texas Medical Association, the Texas eHealth Alliance, telemedicine provider Teladoc – allows the doctor-patient relationship to be established via telemedicine rather than in person and allows for asynchronous “store and forward technology” or other such audiovisual technology so long as it complies with rules set forth to ensure safety and quality of virtual care.

As such, it essentially puts an end to the long legal battle between Teladoc and the Texas State Medical Board. A settlement in the case seems likely at this point. It also allows any other direct-to-consumer telemedicine company, including Teladoc competitor American Well, to move into Texas.

"First and foremost – we join the industry in congratulating the House on passing this bill and entering the Telehealth Era," American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg said in an emailed statement. "Unlike other companies who see telehealth as an app or a phone service, we have always maintained that telehealth should extend the relationship between patients and the healthcare brands they trust. To that end we’ve worked side-by-side with the Texas state medical boards, medical associations, academic medical centers, and legislators to embrace telehealth that upholds the same standards of care patients should expect from in-person care. We are thrilled by the House vote and look forward to bringing safe and effective telehealth to patients in Texas."

Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic talked about the legislation on a recent company earnings call.

“As many of you know, a bill that makes it clear that telehealth will continue uninterrupted in Texas, has been making its way through the state legislature and could become law in the next few weeks,” Gorevic said on Monday. “The passage of this bill into law would resolve our outstanding issues with the Texas Medical Board and would represent a significant victory for the people of Texas in securing their path to quality, affordable and accessible healthcare.”

The House bill does preserve the anti-abortion language in the Senate bill, which could mean legal troubles for the Lone Star state aren't over yet. These bans are not uncommon in telemedicine legislation, but recently they have been challenged in court in several states. Utah stripped the limitation from their telemedicine bills, and Planned Parenthood settled a lawsuit with Idaho legislators over a similar restriction in that state. The reproductive health nonprofit also won a similar suit in Iowa in 2015