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Removing Telehealth Barriers With National Licensing

Our new President is billed as a pragmatist, not a politician. That’s why healthcare leaders are calling on Mr. Trump to make medical license portability the law of the land.

In an open letter to the President from Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) CEO Humayun Chaudhry, the organization urged swift passage of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which would simplify multi-state licensing and improve healthcare access, especially in rural and underserved communities. FSMB also asked the President to remove barriers to telehealth services, including those provided to military personnel and veterans.

President Trump has pledged to improve Veterans Affairs services, but he can’t fault the VA for its policy on medical licensure. The department already allows physicians to work in any of their facilities, even if they’re licensed in just a single state.

Mr. Trump has vowed to eliminate unnecessary regulations – and many would argue that state-by-state medical licensure falls into that category. If a New York physician wants to get licensed in nearby New Jersey and Connecticut, she must provide much of the same information and pay a hefty fee and yearly renewal for each application.

This places a special burden on Alaska and Hawaii – states that don’t share a border and are geographically distant. Patients in these states are often forced to fly to the lower 48 for care because many specialists feel it’s pointless to get licensure when their practices are thousands of miles away.

We’ve all heard about the organization Doctors Without Borders who provide free medical care around the globe. In the U.S., we urgently need doctors without state borders. National licensure would make doctors’ lives easier by eliminating red tape and expenses – and would improve patient care by making telehealth transparent nationwide.

A Legislative Turning Point?

It’s not often that a new bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives has the ATA shouting “Hallelujah!” But that’s the response so far to a recent measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). It may be the most sensible and comprehensive telemedicine legislation ever introduced in the halls of that gridlocked chamber.

The Telehealth Promotion Act of 2012 (H.R. 6719) brilliantly addresses the two chief roadblocks in telemedicine: reimbursement and licensure. Plus it goes much further, calling for some long-needed improvements to existing programs. If enacted, Thompson’s bill would extend the benefits of telemedicine to nearly 75 million Americans by increasing access through Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and other federal programs.

ATA chief executive Jon Linkous has called the bill “a panacea for federal involvement in telemedicine, eliminating archaic barriers and expanding opportunities for remote healthcare.” Here are some key provisions in the bill:

  • Ensuring that no federally covered benefit can be excluded because it’s furnished via telemedicine
  • Allowing telemedicine providers in all federal health plans to be licensed solely in the state where they’re physically located and would be free to treat eligible patients anywhere in the nation
  • Providing new incentives for hospitals that lower readmissions with telemedicine
  • Exempting ACOs from telehealth fee-for-service restrictions
  • Creating a Medicaid telemedicine option to handle high-risk pregnancies

We need to do more than applaud Rep. Thompson’s boldness and vision. Now is the time to urge your U.S. representative to join in this common-sense effort to remove the biggest obstacles to telemedicine. Let your elected leaders know that telemedicine has the power to dramatically decrease federal health spending. That’s music to the ears of legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Thompson’s bill is smart and far-reaching. His colleagues can help restore some of the tattered credibility on Capitol Hill by swiftly passing it this year.