Utah Senate removes telehealth bill abortion restrictions

The controversial topic of abortion has been the centre of discussion of a new telehealth bill in Utah. The bill, HB 154, introduced by Republican Rep Ken Ivory, primarily addresses the issue of insurance coverage for telehealth in Utah and proposes to amend two previous acts and the Utah Insurance Code to achieve this. However, the bill also contained a controversial final clause which stated “A practitioner treating a patient through telehealth services, as described in Title 26, Chapter 59, Telehealth Act, may not issue a prescription through electronic prescribing for a drug or treatment to cause an abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the mother would be endangered without an abortion”

Last week it was reported (in Healthcare IT News) that the bill was discussed in the Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Standing Committee. Similar restrictions on prescribing abortion medication following telemedicine consultations were legally challenged in Idaho by Planned Parenthood resulting in the ban being lifted at the end of January (mobilehealthnews, mhealthintelligence). Earlier, in June 2015, another legal challenge, this time in Iowa, went all the way to the Supreme Court which rejected a state requirement for doctors to see abortion patients in person and ruled that the regional Planned Parenthood unit  could continue to provide abortion inducing medication using remote video consultations.

According to data published by the Guttmacher Institute, as of February 1, 2017, there are 19 states which require a physician to be physically present when abortion inducing medication is prescribed (see Medication Abortion).

This week, when the Utah bill was discussed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee an amendment proposed by Republican Senator Brian Shiozawa removing the above abortion clause was accepted. Shiozawa expressed fears that a constitutional challenge could give negative publicity to  telehealth as a whole. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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