Telemedicine Waiver Extended
Late last month, Governor Parson issued an executive order extending Missourian’s expanded access to telemedicine services through the end of the year.
The governor’s move extended the regulatory waivers on various telemedicine restrictions that have been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Over the past 18 months, I’ve written repeatedly about the importance of keeping these waivers in place, which were set to expire on August 31st. But while the extension was a wise decision, it also raises an important question: if the waived regulations were burdensome enough to warrant their continued suspension, why should they return once COVID-19 has been defeated?
Of course, the past year and a half has been unprecedented, but there are still valuable lessons that can be learned from the experience. What began as an effort to help Missouri’s hospitals and clinics from becoming overwhelmed has now grown into one of the most popular ways to receive non-emergent care.
Prior to the pandemic, telemedicine was a growing but sparsely used option. This was due in large part to various laws and regulations that made accessing providers remotely far too difficult. Regulations limited who could provide services, where those services could be delivered and received, and how services could be paid for. Two of the most egregious examples: a prohibition on telemedicine providers that weren’t physicians already licensed in Missouri, and a requirement that a provider must have physically seen a patient in person before they could treat them remotely.
Fortunately, responding to COVID-19 required our government to quickly reconsider the ways in which the status quo was stifling health care access. With cases of COVID-19 rising and serious concerns about Missouri’s hospitals having adequate capacity to treat those infected, allowing Missourians with other health care needs to stay at home and avoid contracting the virus by virtually interacting with their providers made a lot of sense. But it should be just as easy to access health care services outside of a global pandemic as well.
Missouri has come a long way over the past 18 months, as the state’s legislature has adopted license reciprocity to allow out-of-state providers to work in our state. But the coronavirus is still here and access to health care will remain a serious concern long after the virus is gone. For now, the remaining telemedicine restrictions are only held at bay by the governor’s executive order. Going into next year’s legislative session, it’s time for the legislature to finally take action and remove the barriers to telemedicine permanently.