February 04, 2021 – A bill has been resubmitted that would allow healthcare providers to use telehealth to treat patients in any state for up to six months after the coronavirus pandemic.
The Equal Access to Care Act was reintroduced this week by Texas Rep. Ted Budd and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, both Republicans. Cruz and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) had submitted the bill last year, but it died in committee.
The bill shines the spotlight on a hotly debate barrier to telehealth expansion: state and federal licensing regulations that hinder providers from treating patients in other states. Providers have to apply for a license in each state in which they would treat patients, a complex and expensive process that tamps down many multi-state telehealth programs.
Those rules have been relaxed somewhat during the COVID-19 public health emergency, with some states recognizing licenses issued in other states, but those freedoms will end with the PHE.
Under the bill submitted by Budd and Cruz, “a physician, practitioner, or other health care provider who is licensed or otherwise legally authorized to provide health care services in a primary state, and who provides such health care services in interstate commerce through electronic information or telecommunication technologies to an individual in a secondary state, the location of the provision of such services shall be deemed to be the primary state and any requirement that such physician, practitioner, or other provider obtain a comparable license or other comparable legal authorization from the secondary state with respect to the provision of such services (including requirements relating to the prescribing of drugs in such secondary state) shall not apply.”
If passed, the bill would remain in effect for up to 180 days after the PHE ends.
“Senseless government bureaucracy should never get in the way treating someone who is sick,” Budd said in a press release. “Patients, especially those in rural America, deserve as many options as possible if they need to see a doctor online or over the phone. This common sense bill makes it easier for healthcare providers to treat patients and for patients to quickly get the care they need.”
Telehealth licensure is quickly becoming a hot topic in connected health circles. Some have suggested permanently allowing license portability, in which states recognize licenses issued in other states, while others favor the licensure compact, in which member states create an expedited pathway for providers applying for licenses in each state. Still others suggest creating one license that can be used throughout the country.
The issue affects a wide range of providers, from specialists who want to treat patients with specific needs across the country to hospitals and practices near state borders or in multi-state regions like New England to large health systems with locations in several states.
While most telehealth-related bills failed to make it out of committee last year, lawmakers and telehealth advocates are hoping for a better result in 2021, and are pressing the Biden administration and the new Congress to make telehealth a priority.