New bill breaks down telehealth barriers

Frank Pallone, D-N.J.Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

"The benefits of telemedicine are limited by an antiquated system of licensure laws.'

A bill introduced in Congress this week would enable healthcare providers to treat Medicare patients in other states via telemedicine without needing different licenses for each state.
 
The "TELEmedicine for MEDicare Act", or HR 3077, was introduced Sept. 10 in the House by Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J. Nicknamed the TELE-MED Act, it seeks to update current licensure laws "to account for rapid technological advances in medicine," according to its sponsors.
 
“By reducing bureaucratic and legal barriers between Medicare patients and their doctors, it expands medical access and choice for America’s seniors and the disabled,” Nunes said in a statement.
 
Among the organizations lining up to support the bill is the American Telemedicine Association, which has long championed the cause for improving licensure requirements in telemedicine.
 
[See also: Telemedicine shows ROI at ATA.]
 
"We urge Congress to expand this licensure model for telemedicine to other federal agencies and health benefit programs," said Jonathan Linkous, the ATA's chief executive officer, in a Sept. 12 press release. "Patients should all be able to receive the best and most convenient care available, regardless of geographic location."
 
Linkous said the bill follows in the footsteps of the Service Members Telemedicine & E-Health Portability Act, or H.R. 1832, enacted in 2011, which allows the Department of Defense to enable credentialed healthcare professionals to treat veterans across state lines without the need for additional licenses; and the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act, or H.R. 2001, introduced this year, which would provide a similar exemption for Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare providers.
 
“Technology makes it increasingly easy for patients to receive the 21st Century care they need and want, wherever the physician or other professional is located,” Linkous said.
 
The bill also received support from the Health IT Now coalition. Joel White, the coalition's executive director, called it essential to promoting telemedicine as a means of lowering healthcare costs and improving clinical outcomes.
 
[See also: Private payers look to telemedicine.]
 
“Currently, the benefits of telemedicine are limited by an antiquated system of licensure laws that hinders the practice of medicine across state lines,” White said in a press release. “That means that qualified and credentialed physicians must jump through hoops and hurdles before they can treat patients remotely. Limiting the number of doctors available in any one state to treat Medicare beneficiaries – who, due to disease, transportation or mobility issues, are often not able to travel long distances to receive the care they need – not only decreases access to care, but also increases costs and harms patient outcomes.”
 
“Congress has already had success in implementing a national telemedicine framework for members of the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration," he added. "This Nunes-Pallone bill does the same thing for Medicare beneficiaries, the number of whom is expected to rise to 81 million by 2030. The Health IT Now Coalition hopes Congress will work together to enact the TELE-MED Act into law so that seniors, the disabled, and taxpayers can all benefit from better healthcare at lower costs.”
 
[See also: Fifth attempt on telehealth bill passage.]