The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued a final rule that allows VA providers to offer telehealth services from anywhere in the country to veterans nationwide, waiving state provider licensing requirements that limit access to care.
According to the department, the rule, “Authority of Health Care Providers to Practice Telehealth,” ensures that VA healthcare providers can offer the same level of care to all beneficiaries, irrespective of the location of the VA healthcare provider or the beneficiary. Previously, VA patients were required to go to one of more than 700 technology-equipped community care clinics to receive treatment from a provider licensed in the patient’s state.
Without this rulemaking, healthcare providers who offer services via telehealth in states where they are not licensed “jeopardize their credentials, including fines and imprisonment for unauthorized practice of medicine, because of conflicts between VA’s need to provide telehealth across the VA system and some states’ laws or requirements for licensure, registration, certification, that restrict the practice of telehealth,” the VA states.
This final rulemaking clarifies that VA healthcare providers may exercise their authority to provide healthcare using telehealth, notwithstanding any state laws, rules, licensure, registration, or certification requirements to the contrary.
Behavioral health implications
Over the past decade, telehealth has gained recognition as a solution to enhance access for those seeking treatment for behavioral health disorders in particular.
“These policies help provide evidence-based care in areas where there is a shortage of providers, increase an individual’s access to care, and allow for alternative treatment locations—like a home or office—that better meet a person’s needs,” said Pamela Greenberg, president and CEO of the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, in an email to Behavioral Healthcare Executive. “We hope that the VA’s decision informs the practice of telemedicine nationally.”
ABHW recently teamed with the behavioral health company AbleTo to produce a whitepaper highlighting the ability of telehealth to improve access to and increase the quality of care while also reducing costs. The whitepaper notes that 44 million Americans experience a mental illness and that less than half receive treatment. Major depressive disorder among adults ages 18 to 64 alone has resulted in an annual loss of productivity of $210 billion.
In a blog post written for the Telebehavioral Health Institute, executive director Marlene Maheu, PhD, called VA’s ruling “a bellwether for the massive changes that have been underway for more than a decade to allow clinicians to deliver care that is needed not only by veterans, but a wide variety of underserved groups and their locations.”
Maheu said the VA’s outcomes from licensing rule change will be closely watched to “support yet more sweeping licensing changes across all healthcare arenas in the private and public sectors.”
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.