- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a final rule Monday allowing its healthcare providers to treat patients in any state using telehealth.
- The rule, which takes effect June 11, “clarifies that VA healthcare providers may exercise their authority to provide healthcare through the use of telehealth, notwithstanding any State laws, rules, licensure, registration or certification requirements to the contrary,” according to the Federal Register notice.
- Plans to expand the VA’s telehealth program were first revealed in August, when former VA Administrator David Shulkin announced the Anywhere to Anywhere VA Care initiative. That was followed in October by a proposed regulation standardizing telehealth services for VA practices irrespective of location.
The pre-emption of state laws frees the VA from having to lobby each state to remove barriers that impede its ability to deliver telehealth services, which would be impractical and costly and would delay treatment for veterans and their families, according to the notice.
The agency says it needs the rule to continue expanding its telehealth program, which is especially crucial for rural patients and those with mental health issues.
Several states are in the process of easing telehealth regulations as more providers embrace virtual care as an option for their patients. Last May, for example, Texas enacted a law allowing doctors to provide remote care and patient consultations without a prior in-patient visit, ending a heated legal dispute between Teladoc and the Texas Medical Board.
The American Medical Association previously expressed its support for the rule and the VA’s expansion of telehealth, praising the decision to limit the multi-state licensure exception to VA-employed providers.
Health IT Now, a coalition of patient, provider, payer and employer groups, also welcomed the rule. “This final rule is a victory for our nation’s heroes — particularly those in rural areas — who deserve access to prompt medical care when and where they need it,” Joel White, executive director of Health IT Now, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, there is a larger debate surrounding the VA on possible privatization of its services. Shortly after he was ousted, Shulkin wrote in an op-ed that efforts to privatize were gaining steam, but he opposes the idea and thinks it would undermine care for veterans. The Trump administration has yet to nominate a new head for the agency after its first pick, White House doctor Ronny Jackson, took his name out of the running amid allegations of unprofessional behavior.