A bill introduced this week would enable providers to use telehealth to treat patients in any location up to 180 days after the emergency, bypassing site restriction and interstate licensing guidelines.
– A new bill before Congress aims to allow providers unfettered use of telehealth for six months after the end of the COVID-19 emergency.
Introduced this week by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Equal Access to Care Act would allow licensed providers to use telehealth in any state to treat patients in any location for up to 180 days after the end of the national emergency.
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“The location of the provision of such services shall be deemed to be the (state in which the provider is located) and any requirement that such physician, practitioner, or other provider obtain a comparable license or other comparable legal authorization from the (state in which the patient is located) with respect to the provision of such services (including requirements relating to the prescribing of drugs in such secondary State) shall not apply,” the bill states.
“Telehealth has proven to be an effective tool for providing patients access to health care, including during and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Blackburn said in a press release. “Removing bureaucratic red (tape) will result in more services in more places by more providers so that Americans can get care without the risk of exposing themselves to COVID-19 in a doctor’s office or hospital.”
“Expanding healthcare access in the communities hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic is crucial to our nation’s recovery,” added Cruz, who’d first announced plans to submit the bill in April. “This bill will remove bureaucratic barriers that for too long have stood in the way of effective telemedicine, and will help ensure the American people have their healthcare needs met – regardless of where they live or where their doctor is licensed – and equip our healthcare providers with the capacity they need to treat patients and ultimately defeat this virus.”
The bill would bypass two particular sticking points in telehealth adoption: site-based restrictions and licensing.
State and federal regulators – especially the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – have long regulated where telehealth can be delivered, most often restricting those sites to healthcare facilities and rural areas. With the onset of the pandemic, many states and CMS have enacted emergency measures to expand access to new sites, such as the patient’s home, community health centers, clinics and skilled nursing facilities.
Some states are moving to make those rules permanent, and Congress is under increasing pressure to address that issue as well.
The licensure issue is trickier. Telehealth advocates have long argued that there should be an easier way for a provider to treat a patient in another state, either through an interstate licensure process or license portability – or even one national license. But interstate licensure compacts have been slow to gain broad acceptance, and critics say each state should have the authority to regulate who delivers healthcare in that state.
The one exception is the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose physicians were granted approval to treat veterans in any location via telehealth with passage of the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act in 2017.