The Trump administration on Thursday increased access to COVID-19 telehealth services and made it easier for providers to get liability protection for coronavirus-related medical countermeasures.
HHS allowed healthcare professionals using telehealth to order COVID-19 diagnostic testing and other countermeasures for patients outside the state where they're already allowed to practice. According to the department, HHS' new policy overrides any state law that bans, or effectively bans, out-of-state healthcare professionals from delivering coronavirus-related medical countermeasures.
"Many states have already authorized out-of-state healthcare personnel to deliver telehealth services to in-state patients, either generally or in the context of COVID-19; this action will ensure that COVID-19 Covered Countermeasures can be provided via telehealth across state lines," HHS said in a statement.
Experts are increasingly concerned that the current patchwork of state medical licensing rules could slow telehealth's growth and impair the nation's pandemic response as states return to their pre-COVID rules.
State licensure requirements are supposed to ensure that clinicians are qualified to practice medicine. But many experts worry those rules can limit access to care if they're too restrictive and reduce the number of in-state practitioners or prevent out-of-state clinicians from delivering telehealth services.
States have increasingly tried to get around those issues by joining interstate compacts or entering into reciprocity agreements with other states. But some experts say it could make sense for the federal government to take the lead on reforming medical licensing since telehealth and pandemic response efforts require substantial coordination across states.
In addition to new telehealth flexibilities, HHS allowed providers to get immunity from liability for coronavirus-related medical countermeasures by waiving specific requirements of February's Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act declaration. It also clarifies existing immunity policies.
"For instance, the amendment makes explicit that there can be situations where not administering a covered countermeasure to a particular individual can fall within the PREP Act and the Declaration's liability protections," HHS said in a statement.