House passes bill supporting national VA telehealth program

Introduced earlier this fall by the VA Secretary, the bill would override state licensing restrictions for telemedicine for the agency’s providers.
By Jessica Davis
03:50 PM

The House Veterans Affairs Committee passed a bill Thursday that supports a program introduced by VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, to allow the agency’s medical providers to offer telemedicine services across state lines.

The VETS Act, bill HR 2123 (115), is crucial to the VA’s “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care” program announced in August by VA Secretary Shulkin along with President Trump. The program would amend regulations to allow VA providers to offer telemedicine in a national program.

The bill gives Shulkin’s program legislative authority.

[Also: Trump, Shulkin announce 'anywhere-to-anywhere' telehealth plans for VA]

Shulkin has been working with the White House’s Office of American Innovation and the Department of Justice on a medical practice policy that would support telehealth initiatives. The VA has been repairing its health system while working to cut down wait times that have plagued the agency.

The proposal will expand care and alleviate concerns of some VA providers who don’t use telehealth programs for fear of jeopardizing their medical license. Further, as part of the bill, the VA will need to report back in a year on telemedicine’s impact on its healthcare and feedback from veterans on their satisfaction.

[Also: Proposed rule would let VA caregivers practice telemedicine across state lines]

The bill has received overwhelming support from states, provider organizations and health IT groups, including Health IT Now, a Washington, DC-based health consulting group.

“Improving access to care for our nation's heroes deserves a multi-pronged approach, which is why Health IT Now fully supports both the VA proposed rule, as well as the VETS Act that would permanently enshrine this directive into law," said HITN Executive Director Joel White.

"This policy solution will be instrumental in breaking down geographic barriers that, for too long, have prevented our veterans from getting the health care services they need when and where they need it, he added.

[Also: How Veterans Affairs is leading with big data, precision medicine]

CHIME has also offered similar support, as well as the American Academy of Family Physicians -- despite a long history of opposing efforts of the federal government to override state licensure requirements.

“We nevertheless believe that in this narrow case of the VA, federal preemption of state licensure could possibly serve the public interest and is perhaps not too inappropriate,” wrote AAFP Board Chair John Meigs Jr., MD.

In fact, most seem to be on board with the bill -- except California. The Medical Board of California submitted a letter to Shulkin last week outlining the organization’s concerns about the program.

The Executive Director of the Medical Board of California Kimberly Kirchmeyer said the organization is concerned the rule would “undermine California’s ability to protect healthcare consumers.”

“The board will have no ability to discipline VA providers licensed in another state… as they don’t hold a license to practice medicine in California,” Kirchmeyer wrote. “Without this licensure, enforcement for allegations of wrongdoing would be impossible to investigate and public protection would not occur.”

The letter falls in line with California laws that require physicians who treat patients in the state to hold a California license.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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