FTC says VA telehealth rule would increase competition among providers

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FTC officials say a proposed rule to change physician licensing requirements for telehealth would "spur innovation" elsewhere.

Officials with the Federal Trade Commission believe a Department of Veterans Affairs rule expanding physician licensure for telehealth will spur competition well beyond the VA system.

In a letter to the VA, the FTC outlined its support for a rule that would allow VA practitioners to treat patients in any state via telehealth. The rule is a fundamental regulatory hurdle to the VA’s Anywhere to Anywhere initiative launched earlier this year.

RELATED: VA proposed rule would override state licensing restrictions to expand access to telehealth

In addition to increasing access for veterans, the FTC said the change would “provide an important example to non-VA healthcare providers, legislatures, employers, patients, and others of telehealth’s potential benefits.”

“The rulemaking may spur innovation among other health care providers and thereby promote competition and improve access to care, which will benefit consumers so long as providers are held to the appropriate standard of care for the services they are providing remotely,” FTC officials wrote. “Additionally, the Proposed Rule may afford a valuable opportunity to gather data and provide additional evidence for the VA and outside policymakers to assess the effects of telehealth expansion, thus benefitting VA patients and health care consumers generally.”

RELATED: Amid broad support, the Medical Board of California pushes back on VA’s telehealth rule

Within the VA, the FTC said the rule would “alleviate local workforce imbalances,” particularly among mental health professionals. The agency notes that a number of VA clinicians have left the system or refused to provide telehealth services out of fear they would be sanctioned by states where they were not licensed. Outside of the VA, the FTC believes the new rule could influence broader telehealth policy discussions.

The proposed rule has received sweeping support from provider and health IT organizations who see it as an opportunity to improve access throughout the system. However, the Medical Board of California has raised concerns that it would be unable to discipline physicians that don’t hold a California license but provide telehealth services to patients in the state.