Report: States Have Set Low Bar for Telehealth Care Access in Wake of COVID-19

Each of the 50 states in the nation could stand to modernize their telehealth policies to improve overall access to high-quality care, according to a recent policy brief from the Reason Foundation, Cicero Institute, and Pioneer Institute. Their report highlighted four key areas where there were missed opportunities to solidify the many temporary adjustments put in place to broaden telehealth access amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting sharp uptick in use of telehealth services among patients and providers alike, essentially forced on them by restrictions on in-person visits, during that period was backed by a slew of policy and regulatory changes from state and federal agencies that have since expired or been purposefully abandoned with little fanfare.

While some of these pandemic-related installations happened to survive to the current day, the policy brief report’s four-pronged improvement plan for telehealth access applies to all states. Firstly, the report suggests that the term ‘telehealth’ itself should be more loosely defined so as not to invoke favoritism on any specific mode of virtual care, in the interest of “modality neutrality.” Next, said modality should not stand in the way of patients’ establishment of new telehealth relations, and state laws must avoid blocking patients from connecting with providers through their preferred channel.

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Also in the guidance was a warning that state-line restrictions have become a significant barrier to care access, and a provider being licensed in particular states should not preclude patients in other states from using them. Finally, the variety of available providers via telehealth needs to be broadened. Overall, according to the report, "states must continue to refocus their efforts to ensure clear laws and guidelines are in place for innovation to emerge so that patients and providers can benefit from this helpful tool in any care delivery toolbox.”