Telemedicine Compacts Expand Access to Health Care

Last year saw the rise of banana bread, Tik Tok dances, and telemedicine. Unable to visit doctors in person, millions of Americans called, texted, and video chatted with health care providers using telemedicine.

Employers want healthy employees. Telemedicine gives employees, and their families access to quality health care when and where they need it while creating a robust and competitive market, driving quality up and costs down – exactly what patients needed during economic uncertainty. No matter where they live, it enables everyone to access health care and mental health services using technology. It allows residents without access to transportation or those unable to leave their homes – including the elderly and those with underlying health issues that put them at a higher risk for severe illness – to receive care.

ERIC worked to ensure that employers could extend a telemedicine-only plan to employees or their dependents who were not eligible to participate in the employer’s health plans during the pandemic and is now working to make standalone telehealth a permanent benefit. We worked to allow HSA plans to cover telehealth before patients pay their full deductible, and now we are working to make that improvement permanent before it expires at the end of this year.

But telemedicine only works if a health care professional is available to answer the patient’s call. A lack of physicians in some states was keeping Americans from receiving much-needed care. In an effort to expand access to medical and mental health professionals, states began to explore expanding licensing waivers. Several states, including Alaska, Oklahoma, and Minnesota, passed legislation temporarily expanding national telehealth licensure waivers for their states. State lawmakers also began introducing and passing legislation to enter interstate licensure compacts.

Telemedicine licensure compacts allow licensed health care practitioners to see patients in other states that are also members of the same compact. By joining these compacts, states give their residents needed access to primary care, mental and behavioral health, and other providers. Additionally, they help to address the issue of doctor shortages in rural and underserved areas.

The issue of interstate licensure is so vital to providing care to Americans that Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced the “Temporary Reciprocity to Ensure Access to Treatment (TREAT) Act.” The legislation would provide temporary licensing reciprocity for all practitioners and health care professionals, including those who treat mental health conditions, in all states during a national emergency, including telehealth services. It permits a health care provider who holds a valid license in good standing in any state to practice in every state for the duration of the emergency declaration, plus a 180-day phase-out period once the public health emergency is lifted. And, while the TREAT Act opens telemedicine to more Americans temporarily, ERIC is encouraging lawmakers to enact a permanent solution to allow inter-state medical practice.

Until then, there are multiple compacts physicians and states can join. One of the largest compacts is the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. Currently, 30 states are Compact members, working together to streamline the licensing process for physicians who want to practice in multiple states. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. physicians meet the criteria for licensure through the Compact. Other compacts include the Audiology Speech-Language Pathology Instate Compact, the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact, and the Nurse Licensure Compact. These compacts allow healthcare providers to provide care to those in need but require ten states to sign on to become operational. ERIC is working with lawmakers to pass licensure legislation.

As we continue to make strides and come out of the pandemic, the lessons we have learned cannot be forgotten. Health care saves lives, whether done in person, over the phone, or via video. But, until Congress acts and provides for inter-state medical practice, ERIC will continue to work with state lawmakers to join telemedicine licensure compacts.