Improving health care in rural areas

Local residents are fortunate to have high-quality medical care available to us at hospitals in our population centers. But there are plenty of people in our region living far enough away from those population centers that a trip to the doctor — particularly in an urgent or emergency situation — can present a challenge.

Ohio lawmakers hoping to help find a way around that problem included an important provision in the two-year budget bill signed last month. Private insurance companies are now required to cover remote doctor’s visits through telemedicine programs.

According to Reginald Fields, spokesman for the Ohio State Medical Association, that means physicians who had been reluctant to begin such programs in their own practices now have more flexibility to do so.

“If there is a service that your individual private insurance currently covers and pays for, if you were to go and see your physician in person, under coverage parity that same service now has to be covered under telemedicine, telehealth as well,” Fields told WOSU Public Media.

Of course, such a program still requires patients to have the right kind of internet access — and that is a problem for many of those same rural residents. But the new requirement clearly is a step in the right direction.