Image via Shutterstock Telemedicine
Image via Shutterstock

“If we really cared about telemedicine and really thought telemedicine needed to be done now because of the pandemic then this offensive provision would have been removed.”

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to veto a telemedicine bill that was approved by a slim margin in the Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday because it limits women’s reproductive rights. 

The original version of the bill, which first passed the state Senate in October by a 47-1 vote, promoted telemedicine for use by specialists and other healthcare providers to reach rural and underserved populations. It set licensing guidelines and required insurers to provide coverage for telehealth as they would in-person health care. It would also allow insurance companies and providers to negotiate telehealth coverage rates—as opposed to mandating parity with rates for in-person visits.

A new provision added to the bill in the House, however, limited women’s ability to access abortion medication, prompting state Democrats to oppose the bill. 

The new language bans telemedicine services from applying for medications that are listed on the FDA’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) list, which includes mifepristone, an early-term abortion medication. According to the FDA, medications on the REMS list can only be prescribed after an in-person doctor’s visit. 

“The bigger picture to me is the importance of telemedicine,” said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R) of Centre County, according to PennLive. “There’s probably never been a time where telemedicine is more important than it is today and why we decided it was time to move forward.”

Democrats argued that Republicans in the state senate were using the coronavirus pandemic to try to chip away at women’s access to reproductive services. 

RELATED: Telemedicine Bill in Pennsylvania May Not Pass Because Someone Mentioned the Abortion Pill

“If we really cared about telemedicine and really thought telemedicine needed to be done now because of the pandemic then this offensive provision would have been removed,” said Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D) of Bucks County. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Larry Farnese (D) of Philadelphia disagreed with the argument that the new provision was added in a genuine move to increase patient safety. “We are in the middle of a pandemic and for some reason, we cannot control ourselves in this building because we seize on every opportunity even in the middle of a pandemic, we frustrate a women’s legal right to abortion,” Farnese said. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Wolf said in a statement to PennLive that “the administration supported the bill when it unanimously passed the Senate last year and we supported the efforts on the part of Senate Democrats in recent days to remove unnecessarily restrictive amendments, add improvements and revert back to an earlier version of the bill. Unfortunately, these efforts were rejected and Gov. Wolf will veto the bill.”