PA POST — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf plans to veto a bill that would expand telemedicine options in Pennsylvania but also would restrict its use for abortions.
The measure passed out of the state Senate on Tuesday with a 29-21 party line vote.
State. Sen Michele Brooks, R-Mercer, said the legislation — which would require insurers to cover health care services provided remotely through certain audio and video technology — would be especially useful for people living in rural areas.
“I found it very, very disappointing that the governor, on philosophical differences, would put the health and well being of rural residents at risk,” said Brooks, who criticized the idea that women could receive an abortion without seeing a doctor in person. “You can have an abortion over the internet.”
The bill would ban doctors from using telemedicine for any drug on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy list. The list includes mifepristone, which can be used to end a pregnancy that is less than 11 weeks along.
It is not available in pharmacies. The American Academy of Family Physicians has recommended removing the drug from that federal list of drugs with greater risk, saying that it has a high degree of effectiveness and a minor complications risk.
Emily Callen, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, said telemedicine is currently used to connect people at different health care centers.
She said the patient will typically see a nurse or similar provider in-person and then video conference with a physician at a different site.
“Like many other healthcare providers, we see telemedicine as an important way to expand healthcare to folks who need it, and that’s what lawmakers should be doing right now, not using this as an opportunity to enact new barriers to abortion care,” Callen said.
Republicans argued that it didn’t add any restrictions beyond what’s allowed under existing law.
“This does not change anything as far as any woman’s right to reproductive rights or any access to current medications. This changes nothing,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre).
The Senate passed the legislation last year 47-1 without the abortion restrictions written in. But the House added that language in.
And Corman said it’s clear the House won’t pass the bill without the abortion restrictions.
“So the bigger picture to me is the importance of telemedicine,” Corman said. “And there’s probably never been a time where telemedicine was more important than it is today.”
Wolf’s press secretary, Lyndsay Kensinger, said in an email that Wolf supported the earlier version of the bill, but plans to veto it because of the abortion restrictions, which she called “unnecessarily restrictive.”
PA Post is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom that covers politics and policy in Pennsylvania. Read their reporting at PaPost.org.