Telemedicine Needs Legislative Action
After nearly two years of Missourians enjoying greater access to telemedicine, Governor Parson allowed the waivers that enabled the service’s expansion to expire at the end of 2021. Telemedicine played a crucial role in Missouri’s response to COVID-19, but as I’ve written previously, this required waiving various state laws and regulations. Now that the temporary waivers are gone, telemedicine needs a permanent solution.
Prior to the pandemic, state law made it difficult to use telemedicine for a health care provider that you hadn’t already seen in person. In addition, there were rules that impacted which providers could use the service, the level of services they could provide, and even the treatments they were allowed to prescribe. Once these unnecessary restrictions were waived, telemedicine grew tremendously. Today, there are likely many patients who would prefer retaining expanded options for remote care.
Some providers, including many pharmacists, found that they enjoyed the flexibility provided by Missouri’s COVID-19 waivers. In fact, the Missouri Board of Pharmacists is establishing new rules to prepare for the industry’s more remote-friendly future. Further regulatory changes will be required for other professions, such as re-establishing an easy path for doctors from out-of-state and other willing providers to treat Missourians remotely.
Perhaps the biggest remaining hurdle for telemedicine is the Missouri laws that need to be updated. For example, state statute should be changed to make it easier for providers to write prescriptions for patients they’ve seen remotely. If providers were able to safely treat patients remotely for nearly two years while this law was waived, there’s no good reason to bring it back now. Fortunately, there are multiple bills filed that would represent steps in the right direction on this front, and I’m optimistic one will make it across the finish line this legislative session.
While the telemedicine restrictions were waived as a response to a public health emergency, their absence showed that access to health care in Missouri can be improved without risking patient safety. It’s time for Missouri’s legislature to capitalize on this momentum and make the ease of access Missourians have come to enjoy a permanent feature of telemedicine.