Feds weigh in on competitive benefits of telemedicine

telemedicineAs telemedicine continues to grow in use and popularity, federal agencies are increasingly being asked to consider how it will affect competition in the healthcare arena.

Recently, the Department of Justice offered its backing of a telemedicine bill winding its way through Michigan.

Although the DOJ’s statement, in support of SB 753, was issued in response to a request from Michigan Senator Peter MacGregor for views on the possible competitive effects of the legislation, it serves as a harbinger of the agency’s future position.

The DOJ’s antitrust division noted that the bill “has the potential to enhance consumer options and improve healthcare competition for services appropriately offered through telehealth because it covers a broader range of services than existing law and limits or avoids certain unnecessary barriers to care.”

You can read the full press release here.

SB 753 would allow add six sections to the Public Health code including:

  • Require a health professional to obtain the patient’s consent before providing telehealth services, this would not apply to an inmate in the state correction system;
  • Allow a health professional who is providing a telehealth service to prescribe non-controlled drugs.
  • Authorize the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to promulgate rules regarding telehealth.
  • Permit a disciplinary subcommittee to place restrictions or conditions on a health professional’s ability to provide a telehealth service if it finds that the person has violated the consultation/consent or prescribing rules listed above.

Promoters of telemedicine have long argued that it allows for increased access to medical care, keeps costs down and addresses shortages in medical staffing, particularly in under-served rural areas.

This isn’t the first, and likely will not be the last time, that the DOJ has come out in support of the use of telemedicine. In September, the agency, along with the Federal Trade Commission, backed Teledoc’s court challenge of the Texas Medical Board’s telemedicine restrictions noting that they were anticompetitive.

The board had passed a rule requiring physicians meet with a patient in person before treating them remotely, or they would need to have another provider physically present for telemedicine visits.

In October, the medical board voluntarily dismissed its appeal, which had asked a federal judge to prevent Teledoc’s antitrust suit from moving forward.

As telemedicine continues to grow in popularity, we anticipate DOJ and other state and federal regulatory agencies will be asked to weigh in on questions relating to how it can best be used as well as how it can best be regulated without stifling growth.

The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale can assist providers in navigating The Florida and federal telemedicine guidelines. Give us a call at 305-358-4500 or send us an email to info@vitalehealthlaw.com and let’s discuss how we might be able to assist you.