Former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and President Donald Trump first began to push for telemedicine expansion in August through the Anywhere-to-Anywhere initiative.
“We're going to be issuing a regulation that allows our VA providers to provide telehealth services from anywhere in the country to veterans anywhere in the country, whether it's in their homes or any location.” Shulkin said. “We call it ‘anywhere to anywhere’ VA healthcare. That's a big deal.”
While supported by many, the initiative lacked legislative authority.
Congress passed several bills in support of the measure since the initial announcement, supporting a nationwide telehealth program. This final rule gives the VA the needed authority to override state restrictions that would inhibit providers from treating patients outside of the agency or their region.
It “clarifies that VA healthcare providers may exercise their authority to provide healthcare through the use of telehealth, notwithstanding any State laws, rules, licensure, registration, or certification requirements to the contrary,” according to the notice.
The preemption of state laws was necessary, according to officials, as “it would be impractical for VA to lobby each State to remove any restrictions that impair VA’s ability to furnish telehealth services to beneficiaries and then wait for the State to implement appropriate changes.”
In doing so, the growth of telemedicine usage within the agency would be delayed. And officials are banking on this tool to combat wait times and improve care access to patients. The agency was plagued with scandal in 2014 due to egregious wait times and staff incorrectly recording those numbers.
Officials said the rule will also support veterans in rural areas who would have to travel a long distance or cross state lines to see a doctor. The rule will expand access to critical care, like mental health, to provide faster service through the platform.
The final rule goes into effect on June 11.