October 29, 2015

The Texas Three Step

Reducing healthcare costs is a priority for policymakers across the U.S., including Texas, where we recently participated in the Texas Tribune Festival, the state’s premier event focused on big ideas, innovations, policy, and the future. Teladoc sponsored the panel entitled “Health & Human Services and the Legislature,” to help kick off the Festival’s health care track.

Moderator and Tribune reporter Edgar Walters led a discussion with the leaders of the state senate and house public health committees. Myra Crownover, Chairwoman of the House Public Health Committee, made clear the priority concern of lawmakers, saying, “We’re going to have to bend the curve on costs” for healthcare.

As the largest telehealth provider and a major presence in Texas with our operations center in Lewisville, Teladoc is committed to being a constructive participant in discussions about how to help reduce healthcare care costs and improve access to care for Texas.

We see three key themes that are central to shaping policy in Texas to help people and their employers improve healthcare – including expanding access, providing more convenience, and controlling costs.

1. Technology Rules Disruptive technology continues to impact health care delivery – for the better. Now more than ever we see compelling examples, like Health Tech Wildcatters, a health tech incubator breathing life into startups focused on creative health care solutions; leading-edge medical treatment such as a new technology center in Dallas that turns tiny protons into cancer-fighting rays of hope; and school systems like Texas Tech University harnessing the power of telemedicine to treat people in the state’s prison systems remotely, as well a new medical school in Austin that is reinventing how tomorrow’s doctors will be trained.

What’s the common denominator in this? Advanced technology platforms are driving the creation of better, faster and safer healthcare solutions.

2. Cost Matters As health care policy reforms continue to impact the way employers, payers and providers do business, Texans need technology-enabled services like telehealth that reduce cost, increase productivity, help alleviate the physician shortage and create a healthier workforce.

From fiscal 2005 to 2009, Texas health care spending rose by 36 percent – nearly four times the inflation rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Telehealth consultations cost about $40 compared to an average of $145 for an office visit or $1,957 for an emergency room visit. What’s promising is that the National Business Group on Health states that 74 percent of large employers are expected to offer telemedicine in 2016 compared to 48 percent in 2015 and only 28 percent in 2014. Ranked second in the nation in the number of Fortune 500 companies based here, pro-business Texas needs to enable employers to embrace telehealth now more than ever.

3. Access is an Issue In our ‘health care deserts,’ – rural and urban areas with an inadequate supply of primary care physicians – telehealth helps fill the gaps and helps reduce rising healthcare costs. We’ll let the facts speak for themselves: The Annals of Family Medicine projects a shortage of 52,000 primary care physicians nationwide by 2025. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention ranks Texas 47th in primary care physicians per capita and the Texas Medical Association ranks Texas number one in uninsured residents. Two hundred Texas counties are designated “medically underserved” by the Texas Office of Rural Community Affairs – 16 counties have just one primary care physician, and 27 have none at all.

As the policy conversation continues, we’ll be there to point out the many ways that growth in use of telehealth should be a key part of the future of health care delivery in Texas.