Avoiding Confusion Over State Licensing Laws as CMS Further Loosens Telemedicine Restrictions
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) continues to loosen the conditions for participation in Medicare, as well as specific reimbursement requirements, to ensure facilities and practitioners are able to practice at the top of their license and across state lines without jeopardizing Medicare reimbursement. Unfortunately, as demonstrated when CMS took similar actions over the past few weeks in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, headlines tend to overlook one fundamental component of the applicable regulatory regime: state law requirements.
Unlike the Veterans Affairs Administration’s (VA’s) action a few years ago, which preempted state licensing law for purposes of implementing a VA telemedicine program, the Department of Health and Human Services has limited its actions during the COVID-19 pandemic to modifications of federal regulations and rules. Secretary Alex Azar, in a letter to the Governors, instead encouraged the states to take action themselves to similarly loosen state laws to ensure maximum utilization of resources. The states have been doing so, in some instances since early March, with different approaches. These differences stem from a large number of variables that are implicated by state licensure laws.
Key Takeaways: The practical implication for the provider community is that new standards for Medicare need to be adopted in harmony with existing state laws requirements, which, unfortunately, are not uniform across the country. Nevertheless, nearly every state has taken action to loosen cross-border licensing restrictions for healthcare professionals and have modified other rules and regulations to help protect healthcare workers, maximize their numbers and help them practice at the highest level of their experience and training. There is a national movement in this direction, but it remains a patchwork.