Update on Recent Telehealth Legislation Activity


On November 29, 2016, the Senate passed the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act, S. 2873 (the ECHO Act) in a 97-0 vote, which would require HHS to study and report on the use of telehealth services that connect specialists with other healthcare professionals “for the purpose of facilitating case-based learning, disseminating best practices, and evaluating outcomes.”  A companion bill, H.R. 5395, was introduced in the House in June.  No action has been taken on the companion bill. 

In particular, the ECHO Act would require HHS to analyze the use of telehealth services to address mental and substance abuse disorders, chronic diseases, prenatal and maternal health, pediatric care, pain management, palliative care, healthcare workforce shortages and retention, public health programs, the delivery care of healthcare services in rural and underserved areas and the delivery of care to underserved populations.  The ECHO Act would further require HHS to issue a report within two years that would analyze the use and impact of telehealth services, list telehealth models that have been funded by HHS, analyze opportunities for increased adoption of telehealth models and provide recommendations for integrating telehealth models funded by HHS and improving the adoption of telehealth models.

The same day the Senate passed the ECHO Act, the Department of Justice, Antitrust Division  responded to an inquiry from Michigan state Senator Peter MacGregor (R) regarding the Antitrust Division’s position on the potential competitive effects of his sponsored telehealth legislation, Michigan Senate Bill 753, H-1 (SB 753) (the DOJ Letter).  A copy of the DOJ Letter is available here

According to the DOJ Letter, SB 753 “(1) specifies that permitted telehealth services extend beyond Michigan’s existing statutory definition of telemedicine, (2) provides for flexibility in how patients must provide consent for telehealth treatments [by permitting direct or indirect consent for telehealth treatment], and (3) allows health professionals to prescribe drugs that are non-controlled substances through telehealth services.”  However, the Antitrust Division notes that SB 753 does not address the in-state licensing requirement and encourages the legislators to consider the competitive benefits of improving access for its citizens to qualified out-of-state telehealth providers.  Nonetheless, the Antitrust Division still finds that SB 753 “has the potential to enhance consumer options and improve health care competition for services appropriately offered telehealth” and that the three changes to current Michigan law in SB 753 “have the potential to facilitate more robust use of telehealth services and expand health care competition by limiting or avoiding certain unnecessary barriers.” 


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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