Pending law could expand use of VA telemedicine services

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Legislation to remove current restrictions on the use of telemedicine within the Department of Veterans Affairs is close to becoming law.

Under current law, qualified VA physicians can only waive state licensing requirements and provide telemedicine services across state lines if both the patient and physician are together in a federally owned facility.

As introduced, the bill would free VA providers from state restrictions, enabling them to use telemedicine at any location in any state regardless of where the professional or patient is located if the professional is using telemedicine to provide VA medical or health services.

The bill, known as the VETS Act of 2017, was introduced in the House last April and passed in the House without amendment in November.

The Senate passed its version of the bill on January 3, with two key provisions not included in the House version. The bill would supersede any provisions of any state law that is inconsistent with the bill, and no state would be able to deny or revoke the license, registration or certificate of a healthcare professional on the basis that the professional intends to engage in telemedicine.

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These changes are significant as they invoke federal supremacy over state laws that currently impede VA telemedicine services, says Catherine Pugh, senior director of government affairs at Health IT Now, a consortium of stakeholders working to improve patient outcomes.

"Passage of the VETS Act would allow veterans to seek care when and where they need it, including in their homes, via telemedicine," Pugh explains. "That means that a veteran could receive telemedicine services from qualified providers in another state without having to travel to a federal facility, as is currently required."

Now, the House and Senate bills likely will bypass a typical conference committee where members of both chambers hash out differences and reach a final bill, Pugh predicts. With wide support for the legislation, although some concerns over the federal supremacy language remain, she believes a more informal “reconciliation” process will soon take place with the bill then passed by both houses and enacted into law.

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