Gov. Ralph Northam Signs Legislation Extending Telemedicine to Help Virginians | Citizens Against Government Waste

Gov. Ralph Northam Signs Legislation Extending Telemedicine to Help Virginians

The WasteWatcher

Governor Ralph Northam (D-Va.) has signed two bills into law extending telemedicine throughout the state.  HB 5046 and SB 5080, signed on November 9, 2020, direct the Board of Medical Assistance Services to amend Virginia’s state health services plan by allowing medical services to be provided through telemedicine.  When signing the bills, Gov. Northam added an emergency clause to make the bills effective immediately upon passage. 

Virginians will now be able to receive care from medical providers from anywhere in the state.  Services can be provided over the phone, through the internet, or in person. 

This expanded use of telemedicine services can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, while still allowing patients access to in-person care when needed. Telemedicine also allows providers to monitor various conditions and provide follow-up with patients after they have been discharged from the hospital. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma announced on March 17 that under a 1135 waiver, Medicare would pay physicians to provide telehealth services to all beneficiaries on a temporary basis.  This waiver allows the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take actions beyond normal activities when the president declares under the Stafford Act or National Emergencies Act.  Medicare beneficiaries can “meet” with their provider without leaving home. 

Before the pandemic, states did not have many options for telemedicine, especially for people in rural areas.  As these services expanded in 2020, McKinsey & Company’s Healthcare Systems & Services Division reported that telemedicine usage increased from 11 percent to 46 percent in the past year and could grow into a $250 billion industry.

In May 2020, the Department of Labor published a list of 33 states that suspended, waived or eliminated regulations related to healthcare licenses and telemedicine to make it easier to deliver necessary services to their citizens during these uncertain times and in the current mobile society.

Among the states that have enabled greater use of telemedicine are New Jersey, South Carolina, and Texas.  New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill into law on March 20 that temporarily enables licensing boards to speed the recognition of out-of-state licensing and allow greater access to telemedicine.  South Carolina and Texas also have enabled fast-track recognition for licenses outside of the state.  Other states, including Maine, Mississippi, and North Carolina now allow out-of-state professionals to provide telemedicine to their residents.

Like many states, the Virginia bills expand telemedicine temporarily, as the authorization expires on July 1, 2021.  While this is a good step in the right direction, the legislature should consider making these telemedicine measures permanent so individuals who live in remote areas or otherwise cannot immediately get in to see a doctor in person have continued access to healthcare.