The Health and Human Services Department is issuing $20 million in COVID-19 funds to four telehealth programs for pediatric and maternal care and two efforts to expand interstate license portability.

Federal officials have awarded $20 million to four healthcare providers and two organizations to improve telehealth outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic – including efforts to expand multi-state licensure.

The April 30 announcement came from the Health and Human Services Department, which issued the awards through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The money comes out of the CARES Act, which was signed into law in March.

“This new funding will help expand telehealth infrastructure that is already being used during the pandemic to provide essential care, especially to the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children with special health care needs,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a press release. “This funding will also help clinicians use telehealth nationally by streamlining the process to obtain multi-state licensure.”

Two grants of $2.5 million were issued by the HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy to the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), which launched the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact in 2017, and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, which launched the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact last year.

“This investment will assist telehealth clinicians nationally on licensure and credentialing to meet the emerging needs with the COVID-19 public health emergency,” HHS officials said. “Recipients will work with professional and state licensing boards and national compacts to develop a streamlined process for telehealth clinicians to obtain multi-state licensure.”

License portability and interstate licensure have been hot topics since well before the Coronavirus pandemic, but telehealth advocates have pushed the issue to the forefront during the emergency, alongside federal and state declarations that have reduced barriers to telehealth and mHealth use to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The FSMB has been keeping a running tally of states waiving in-state telehealth licensure requirements and issuing emergency licensing declarations during the pandemic, and groups like the American Medical Association, American Telemedicine Association and ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) have been lobbying for license portability. ERIC, for example, recently sent a letter to the 21 states that haven’t joined the IMLC asking them to join the compact.

But not everyone agrees. Some states have seen compacts as a challenge to the business interests of local physicians and hospitals, or a back door to allowing unregulated telehealth companies to treat residents.

Along with the two licensing grants, $15 million was awarded to four recipients through the HRSA’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau. The American Academy of Pediatrics is getting $6 million, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Maternal Health Care program are getting $4 million apiece, and Family Voices, a New Mexico-based program for families of children with special healthcare needs, is getting $1 million.

HHS officials said those grants will:

  • Provide telehealth care for adolescents and young adults; expand telehealth services for children with special health care needs and help community-based pediatric practices unaccustomed to telehealth develop capacity to meet the needs of their practices, particularly in rural and underserved areas.
  • Support access to services and supports via telehealth such as virtual doula care, remote pregnancy monitoring and other evidence-based practices for delivering trauma-informed perinatal and behavioral health care.
  • Support development of policies, systems and effective practices to deliver and support telehealth to maternal and child health populations across each state as well as develop the telehealth infrastructure for newborn screening systems and evidence-based early childhood home visiting.
  • Expand telehealth services for families of children with special health care needs through trainings for families and national family organizations on accessing telehealth, including for routine care and services they’re not accustomed to accessing virtually.

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