While states are increasingly embracing the value of occupational licensing reciprocity, recognition and compacts, it is still difficult for medical professionals to work across state lines and go where needed. Earlier in the pandemic, temporary state-level executive orders allowed retired medical professionals, professionals in other states and even foreign medical school graduates to work in these states. These measures are valuable and important, but fail to grant the same regulatory certainty as permanent ones. Many state executive orders have also expired. Permanent measures ought to be the next step for states.
Going where needed can be a virtual matter, too. As 2020 has progressed, we’ve seen major shifts in how both state and federal bodies regulate telemedicine services. In many states, governors issued executive orders allowing for more types of telehealth services. State Medicaid programs also began to cover many more telehealth services to encourage beneficiaries to stay socially distanced and out of brick-and-mortar offices. On the federal level, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) also announced some relaxations to HIPAA restrictions, meaning that Americans could use services like FaceTime to talk to their doctor, which normally violates HIPAA patient privacy restrictions. We also saw the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expand insurance coverage to include more telehealth services, many of which were just made permanent. As the official public health emergency period nears its end and temporary measures wind down, it is time for state and federal lawmakers to enact permanent telehealth expansions.