Falling Behind on Telemedicine
Not long ago, Missouri was a national leader in telemedicine. Governor Parson was among the first to waive unnecessary restrictions on telemedicine as part of the state’s response to COVID-19, and those waivers played a key role in allowing the service to flourish. But the waivers have since expired, and our elected officials have yet to take the action necessary to ensure continued easy access to telemedicine. Missouri is falling behind, as numerous states and even the federal government are recognizing the important role telemedicine should play in health care going forward.
As I’ve written repeatedly, the growth in telemedicine services was one of the few silver linings of the pandemic, and all it took was the government getting out of the way. Prior to 2020, most forms of health coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid, covered telemedicine services only in some circumstances. Various laws and regulations restricted where telemedicine services could be accessed and who could provide them, which drastically limited their benefits. But once the COVID-19 public health emergencies were declared, many of these restrictions were waived, and millions of people nationally tried remote health care for the very first time.
At the end of 2022, as Missouri turned the corner on the pandemic, Governor Parson allowed the telemedicine waivers to expire. Though telemedicine usage was lower at that time than it was during its 2020 peak, it was still far more popular than it was before the pandemic. There is no doubt that some medical services could be better in person, and there are some potential risks for fraud and abuse with remotely offered services. But after multiple years of telemedicine proving its place as a reliable health care option, bringing back old barriers that were shown to drastically limit health care access should have been out of the question.
All things considered, I was optimistic last year that Missouri’s legislature would at least make the waivers permanent, if only because that would maintain a level of access to health care that Missourians had grown accustomed to. But, as with many other priorities this past legislative session, telemedicine reform failed to make it across the finish line.
As this year’s legislative session gets underway, our elected officials have a fresh opportunity to make things right on telemedicine. Giving Missourians the increased options and access they had in the very recent past seems like a perfect place to start.