Time Running Out to Protect Telemedicine
One of the few bright spots from the past year was the removal of various barriers that were needlessly restricting access to telemedicine services. Unfortunately for Missouri, unless there’s action before August 31, those barriers will be going back up.
At the outset of the pandemic there were serious concerns that an influx of patients would overwhelm our state’s hospitals and clinics, and expanding telemedicine usage offered a timely solution. Allowing patients to access their health care providers remotely helped relieve the strain on an area’s hospitals while also allowing those at risk of being exposed to the virus to receive care from the comfort of their own homes. That’s why back in March of 2020, after Governor Parson declared a state of emergency to help the state respond to COVID-19, he then waived various regulations that were making it harder for Missourians to receive care via telemedicine. (See more here about the specific regulations that were waived.)
But as our communities turn the corner on the pandemic, it’s likely Missouri’s state of emergency declaration will be allowed to expire on August 31. And with its expiration, the various regulations that were waived to fight the pandemic will return, which includes those that restrict access to telemedicine. My colleagues and I have been writing for the past year about the importance of making these and other regulatory waivers permanent, and while there was some optimism toward the end of the legislative session, none of the bills including those provisions made it across the finish line.
It’s important that our elected officials remember what was learned during the pandemic. So much has changed over the past year, including the dramatic rise in telemedicine usage, and there’s no reason to return to the old status quo when we now know that things can be better. Too many Missourians still struggle to access the health care they need when they need it; why would Missouri bring back old barriers that only make receiving care more difficult?
Going into next year, improving health care access for Missourians should be a priority for our elected officials. The easiest way to move forward is the policy of making permanent the regulation waivers that have been so helpful over the past year.