On November 8, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 2123, the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (“VETS”) Act of 2017. Under current regulations, VA health care providers in good standing may practice in another state if the provider is located in a facility owned by the Federal Government; however, this does not apply to the provision of telemedicine services, which can currently only be provided in the VA health care provider’s licensing state subject to the state’s regulation. If passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by the President, the VETS Act will greatly expand the ability of VA health care providers to treat veterans through the use of telemedicine. Notably, the VETS Act:
- Allows VA health care providers to treat veterans at any location in any state if using telemedicine to provide treatment, regardless of where the provider or veteran is located, and regardless of whether each is located at a facility owned by the Federal Government during treatment.
- Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit a report on the efficacy of the use of telemedicine by the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Committees on Veterans Affairs of both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
The text of the VETS Act states that it is not intended to remove, limit, or otherwise affect the obligations of health care providers imposed by the Controlled Substance Act. The Controlled Substance Act, as amended by the Ryan Haight Act, requires at least one in-person medical evaluation to occur prior to a physician being able to write a valid prescription for a controlled substance. While VA health care providers are generally excepted from this requirement when providing emergency medical treatment through telemedicine, the VETS Act seemingly does not impact this requirement during non-emergency medical treatment, potentially limiting its benefit.
Because the VETS Act would exempt qualifying VA health care providers from state licensure requirements, some organizations have expressed concern regarding the consequences to patient care that could result from such preemption of state-based licensure and regulation of physicians, and the limitations that the VETS Act would impose on states’ ability to regulate the practice of telemedicine.
Representative Glenn Thompson, sponsor of the VETS Act, stated that “the VA has been doing limited telemedicine with great success . . . but their expansion is hampered by outdated regulations” and that the VETS Act would “keep the VA from forcing veterans to a brick-and-mortar VA location when the types of services they need they could access online from the comfort of their living rooms.”
The VETS Act has now been received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for further consideration. Norton Rose Fulbright will continue to monitor the VETS Act’s progress and will report on further developments.