Despite the fact that no other developed country even comes close to the United States in annual spending on health care, 20 percent of Americans still live in areas where shortages of physicians and health care specialists exist, and the United States still ranks the lowest overall among eleven industrialized countries on measures of health system efficiency, access to care, equity, and healthy lives. Many believe that the answer to issues of cost and access in the US health system lies in telehealth, which increases access to care, alleviates travel costs and burdens, and allows more convenient treatment and chronic condition monitoring.
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal government announced the move toward encouraging and including telehealth services in health care coverage. The ACA, however, only implementedtelehealth at the federal level through Medicare, in selected circumstances; the power to determine which, if any, telehealth services is covered by Medicaid still remains largely within the powers of individual states.Also, states can govern private payer telehealth reimbursement policies. This means that telehealth implementation varies from state to state in terms of what services providers will be reimbursed for delivering, as well as what sort of "parity," defined as "equivalent treatment of analogous services," is expected between in-person health services reimbursements and telehealth reimbursements. This variation affects providers' ability to implement telehealth options, thereby reducing the patients' ability to use these services and become comfortable with the telehealth processes. Consequently, telehealth faces significant obstacles in becoming an accepted and used health care option for individuals, and states and the nation as a whole cannot fully realize the cost savings of telehealth.