Wheaton farmer Donn Teske interrupted a visit Thursday to the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., to praise the Kansas Legislature's attempt to improve statewide access to telemedicine.

"To me, telemedicine is just a logical option," said Teske, who fears demise of rural communities that can't deliver quality-of-life essentials, such as hospitals, schools, grocery stores and churches. "It's puzzling that it's being turned into a political issue."

A fight about abortion restrictions could prevent passage of House Bill 2028 by the 2018 Legislature. The bill would compel insurance companies in Kansas to cover health care services provided through video conferencing if that service was covered for face-to-face meetings of doctor and patient.

The health parity legislation, approved in different forms by the House and Senate, struck a procedural roadblock when Kansans for Life insisted the bill include language already in state law forbidding abortions to be performed by telemedicine. The anti-abortion organization also pressured lawmakers to insert a special clause legally coupling the abortion and telemedicine sections.

The "non-severability" text would mean that if a court struck down the abortion ban in response to a lawsuit, the telemedicine portion would be nullified as well.

"They're willing to sacrifice availability of health care to rural Kansas," said Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican and retired physician.

Procedurally, the House called for a new round of negotiations with the Senate on the telemedicine bill. It isn't clear how the Senate will respond when lawmakers return to Topeka on April 26, but Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said the severability clause shouldn't be part of the bill.

Schmidt, a pharmacist and the Senate's leader of negotiations on health issues, said thousands of Kansans could benefit from broader reach of telemedicine services.

"This bill is very important to rural Kansas. This bill helps with coverage parity," she said.

Legislators aligned with Kansans for Life said the House and Senate should insist upon the leverage that would be provided by a severability clause.

"The proper language must be included in the bill with no compromise. We are Kansans For Life, not Kansans For Life Sometimes," said Rep. Kevin Jones, a Wellsville Republican. "Telemedicine is an important endeavor, but not if it can be used to murder the future leaders of our state."

Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said legislators eager to step away from the clause on severability were attempting to undercut Kansas' largest political organization dedicated to ending legal abortion.

"I'm highly supportive of telemedicine," Masterson said. "It's unnecessary to poke Kansans for Life in the eye."

Since 2011, Kansas law has required in-person physician delivery of "chemical" abortions. The result is a ban on telemedicine abortion in the state.

The Senate approved a version of House Bill 2028 without the severability clause on a vote of 24-14. When sent over to the House, a motion was adopted 75-45 calling for House-Senate talks about restoring the provision to the bill.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he would introduce federal legislation to improve the use of telemedicine in responding to lack of addiction treatment facilities for rural patients.

"Patients suffering from substance use disorders in rural parts of the country face many challenges in accessing the clinical services they need," Roberts said. "I have heard from many Kansans who have to drive long distances, sometimes across state lines, in order to access substance abuse treatments. The nearest methadone clinic for southeast Kansas is in Joplin, Mo."

Roberts, co-chairman of the U.S. Senate's rural health caucus, said community mental health and addiction treatment facilities in rural areas often don't have a full-time clinician who can prescribe controlled substances, such as methadone and Suboxone, for treatment of substance disorders. He also said the distance can be a burden on providers, who must spend hours traveling to treat a single rural patient.