Medicare providers would be able to treat patients electronically across state lines without having to obtain multiple state medical licenses, according to new legislation proposed in the House this week.
The TELEmedicine for MEDicare (TELE-MED) Act (H.R. 3077) "updates the law to account for rapid technological advances in medicine," according to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who sponsored the bill. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) co-sponsored the legislation.
"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.
The bill was lauded by the Health IT Now Coalition, which called the legislation "essential" to promoting the benefits of telemedicine.
"Currently, the benefits of telemedicine are limited by an antiquated system of licensure laws that hinders the practice of medicine across state lines," Health IT Now Coalition Executive Director Joel White said in a statement. "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."
Similar legislation was introduced in the House in January by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). That bill--the Telehealth Promotion Act (H.R. 6719)--called for an increase in access to telemedicine within Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, TRICARE, federal employee health plans and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Like the TELE-Med Act, it, too, required that providers only be licensed in their own state to be allowed to provide telehealth services nationwide. A bill introduced in summer 2012 that would have allowed VA providers to practice across state lines was not enacted, nor was a previous bill to expand federal reimbursement for telehealth services.
In a blog post published at Lexology in June, René Y. Quashie, senior counsel in the healthcare and life sciences practice at law firm Epstein Becker Green, said that state licensure laws were among several issues that should worry healthcare leaders.