March 17, 2020
By Naomi Lopez

Many may be surprised to learn that telemedicine originated in ancient times when smoke signals and light reflection were used to communicate medical information, plagues, and other health events. Over the past century, most everyone had some experience with telemedicine if they had ever used a phone—rotary or smart—to obtain medical advice.

But thanks to technological advances, as well as work in state legislatures across the country to help expand and protect innovative healthcare solutions that increase access and affordability, telemedicine is being relied upon in the coronavirus crisis to conduct initial screens of patients, treat patients with minor ailments who might otherwise be forced to break home quarantine, and monitor sick patients remotely.

In the midst of this crisis, some insurers are waiving co-pays for telemedicine visits for any reason for the next 90 days. This limits person-to-person exposure. Other insurers are waiving cost sharing for all video visits through services such as CVS MinuteClinic app and Teledoc.

In a major announcement, the Medicare program which is the primary healthcare program serving the nation’s aged population, will temporarily reimburse providers for telemedicine visits for a wide range of services. According to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, “These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus. Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries.”

While telemedicine is not a substitute for addressing complex ailments such as cancer or other chronic health issues, they can provide much-needed and timely access to care. Whether a patient is accessing a primary care doctor or a rural primary care doctor is “conferencing in” a specialist, telemedicine can reduce wait times to see a provider and help determine whether a patient needs to travel to a larger city see a specialist.

Unfortunately, there have been efforts in some states to impose new regulatory burdens that have no significant bearing on patient safety. For example, many states have laws that require a patient to get an in-person exam or physically see a doctor before that doctor is allowed to provide a prescription. Rather than allow the physician to make the determination of whether or not the patient needs to undergo a physical exam, lawmakers often seek to impose one-size-fits-all rules.

The Goldwater Institute, along with numerous liberty allies, have worked in statehouses across the country to promote policies that are based on an important principle: Rather than limit patient access and choice, lawmakers should protect and empower healthcare innovators, especially when they offer consumers an affordable option to access timely care.

Protecting this type of innovation has always been important. The current crisis demonstrates why it is essential.

Naomi Lopez is the Director of Healthcare Policy at the Goldwater Institute.

This is part of an ongoing series of posts analyzing America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. For more on this topic from Goldwater Institute experts, click here.

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