Azar urges governors to remove barriers to telehealth during crisisPOLITICO
By Darius Tahir, Mohana Ravindranath
03/25/2020 05:16 PM EDT
Governors should be revising or waiving regulations during the coronavirus pandemic to allow more medical professionals to provide telehealth and other care, HHS Secretary Alex Azar wrote in a letter.
The letter to the nation's governors dated Tuesday outlines eight requests, including expanding care across state lines, streamlining processes to re-certify professionals and allowing medical school students to treat patients. The requests are predominantly focused on services provided remotely through telemedicine.
Doctors and nurses serving at the front lines "need backup," Azar wrote. "Your help is needed to ensure health professionals maximize their scopes of practice and are able to travel across state lines or provide telemedicine to communities where they are needed most."
Many states have already gone where Azar is asking them to go. Texas and other large states allow out-of-state providers to practice as the coronavirus stresses the health care system.
Azar's letter could "bring some kind of consistency" to states' telehealth approach, said Krista Drobac, executive director of the telehealth lobbying group the Alliance for Connected Care. Drobac noted that 35 states have waived some licensing requirements for the crisis, but with significant variation in what that means for practitioners. "To say it's confusing is an understatement," she said.
The request follows a remark from Vice President Mike Pence's last week that HHS would issue a regulation to allow "all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines to meet the needs of hospitals that may arise in adjoining areas."
An HHS spokesperson did not clarify at the time what authority HHS had to waive state licensing requirements; the national emergency declaration in response to coronavirus allowed the department to waive certain reimbursement restrictions, but decisions about who can actually practice in a state are generally made at the state level.
The National Governors Association has urged its members to exercise their own discretion, potentially by activating the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an interstate mutual aid agreement, and granting temporary licenses to practice in-person or via telehealth.
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