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Are State Lawmakers Going to Shut the Door on 21st Century Healthcare?

July 6, 2022

As the nation moves away from the pandemic era, old rules have phased back in for a handful of states, triggering a major rollback in a critical way that millions of Americans access healthcare. Specifically, this trend has greatly reduced Americans’ access to telehealth services, which allow patients to access high-quality medical care from the comfort of their own home using a computer, smartphone, or landline phone.

In fact, nearly one-quarter of Americans reported that they used these services in the previous four weeks, according to a survey conducted last year. Yet as of July 1, 70 percent of states have no telehealth legislation or licensure flexibilities on the books, meaning most Americans are barred from accessing virtual care from doctors who reside out of state. Just in the past few weeks, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Delaware pushed Americans off the telehealth cliff, and even more states are set to do so in the coming months.  

As a recent NBC News headline warned: “Patients are losing telehealth access to doctors.”

The major challenge is licensing. This outdated 19th-century requirement dictates that doctors must have a license from the state where a patient is located, even if they’re licensed in a different state. Now, with most states reverting to their pre-pandemic licensure rules, patients may have to change providers or even drive hours to another state when video calls from their homes would been permitted just a short time ago. 

If the nation learned anything from the pandemic, it was that telehealth services offer a wide range of benefits—including significant cost savings for patients and providers alike—by reducing the amount of travel, time off from work, clinical visits, and emergency room admissions. Scottsdale Physician Group has shown how powerful telehealth really can be. They cut their annual medical expenditures by 22 percent and kept one out of five patients who normally would have been hospitalized out of the emergency room. In one scenario, Scottsdale Physician Group dropped a patient’s emergency room visits from nearly twice a month to zero, which is equivalent to 24 ER visits a year. 

Fortunately, Arizona and the legislature have passed the House Bill 2454, a first-in-the-nation Goldwater Institute reform which made the state’s pandemic era telehealth services permanent. (Six other states have also adopted permanent telehealth reforms.) Arizona’s approach expands services to rural hospitals and those serving medically vulnerable populations. Now, a rural Arizona patient who suffers a serious stroke can obtain in-person care from the local community hospital while also getting instantaneous medical guidance from a leading specialist at another facility across the country. 

More states should follow Arizona’s lead and remove the barriers for millions of Americans to access healthcare from the comfort of their homes. Nationwide, patients are not able to get the care they need because they are homebound, live in remote areas, have infirmities, or simply do not have access to transportation. Let telemedicine bridge the gap and pass legislation that is more appropriate for the 21st century. We live in a technological age, and state legislation needs to embrace it.    

Amanda Hagerman is a Healthcare Policy Analyst at the Goldwater Institute.



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