FTC backs provision advancing telemedicine services in Alaska

The Federal Trade Commission is throwing its support behind a telemedicine provision that's part of legislation working its way through the Alaska Senate.

Senate Bill 74 would allow providers who are licensed to practice in Alaska--but who live out of state--to diagnose, treat and prescribe drugs to patients via "audio, video, or data communications" without a prior physical examination. It also would allow behavioral health professionals licensed in Alaska to provide services remotely.

"Because of the state's vast size, rural nature and harsh conditions, telehealth has long been a staple of Alaskan healthcare delivery," according to the FTC's letter to state Rep. Steve Thompson. "FTC staff believes that the provisions in SB 74 that would allow out-of-state as well as in-state Alaska licensees to provide telehealth services without an in-person examination would represent a pro-competitive improvement in Alaska's telehealth law."

The FTC adds that the provisions will increase the number of providers using telehealth, grow competition and lower costs, which would benefit underserved populations in the state.

Payers also are moving telemedicine forward by reimbursing for more of the services. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama said late last year it will reimburse for some telemedicine services and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina is now offering telehealth to certain members through a program called Blue CareOnDemand.

The District of Columbia Department of Health earlier this month proposed rules for telemedicine practice, the first such regulations for the nation's capital.

However, rules proposed in January by the Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors may hold telehealth back in the state by requiring licensed professionals to practice in Texas and perform a face-to-face intake session before a telehealth counseling, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

To learn more:
- here's the FTC's letter (.pdf)
- check out the bill text (.pdf)