The Texas Medical Board wants a federal appeals court to block a lawsuit challenging its controversial restrictions on telemedicine practice.
The board said in court documents Friday that it wants the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a federal District Court's December decision to let the antitrust case filed by telemedicine provider Teladoc proceed.
Such appeals to a higher court in the middle of a federal District Court case are rarely allowed.
Lewisville, Texas-based Teladoc sued the state board in April over a rule that requires physicians to either meet with patients in person before treating them remotely or else have other providers physically present with the patients while the telemedicine physician treats them for the first time.
Teladoc alleges the rule violates antitrust laws because it restricts the company's ability to compete, resulting in higher prices and less patient access to doctors.
The Texas Medical Board, however, has characterized the new rules as an expansion of telemedicine opportunities “representing the best balance of convenience and safety by ensuring quality healthcare for the citizens of Texas.”
Experts say the case has potential implications for how medical boards regulate telemedicine across the country. Some brick-and-mortar physician practices are concerned that competition from telemedicine providers could reduce their patient population, and some observers say medical boards may be sympathetic to these worries among their medical colleagues. But some medical groups argue that the growing new field of telemedicine needs to be carefully regulated to protect patient safety.
In his December opinion, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman rejected three of the medical board's main arguments for dismissing the case, including that the board should be immune from antitrust liability as a state agency. He previously had issued a preliminary injunction to block the rule from taking effect.
The judge rejected the board's antitrust immunity argument based largely on last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in North Carolina Dental Board v. FTC. The high court held that state licensing boards made up of active members of the professions they regulate, such as practicing dentists and physicians, are not immune from antitrust laws unless they are actively supervised by the state.