Institute for Justice Urges States to Expand Access to Telemedicine

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 28, 2020

Arlington, Va.—As states scramble to shore up their medical systems, the Institute for Justice (IJ) is urging state regulators to drop barriers limiting residents’ access to telemedicine. In a series of letters, IJ attorneys urged regulators in Arizona, Illinois and Minnesota to immediately allow out-of-state doctors to provide medical advice using smartphone apps, video conferencing systems or even over the telephone.

“Now is not the time to allow protectionist policies like these get in the way of medical care,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Jaimie Cavanaugh. “A doctor licensed in Wisconsin or Iowa is just as capable as a doctor in Minnesota to provide front-line medical advice. Restricting telehealth appointments to in-state providers is completely unnecessary and only serves to preserve in-state doctors’ medical monopolies. Right now, many in-state providers are answering the call to work wherever they are needed. And while the majority of Americans are staying home, everyone should have access to healthcare practitioners without having to take undue risks to visit a clinic or hospital emergency room.”

For instance, in light of the pandemic, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz waived certain telehealth requirements to allow Minnesotans to use telehealth platforms to see mental health providers licensed anywhere in the United States. But his waiver should have gone further to allow Minnesota residents to use telehealth appointments to see any type of healthcare provider licensed anywhere in the U.S.

Likewise, governors in Arizona and Illinois both issued executive orders mandating health insurance coverage for telehealth services, but the orders still limit telehealth providers to in-state practitioners.

In comparison, states such as Idaho, Florida and Utah have allowed their citizens to benefit from telehealth services provided by practitioners licensed anywhere across the country. That is because virtual appointments are proven both safe and effective.

“It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to realize that state-authorized medical monopolies are problematic,” continued Cavanaugh. “We’re urging states to drop their in-state limits in light of the current pandemic, and ultimately eliminate them once and for all.”

During the pandemic, increasing access to telehealth eases burdens on hospitals and increases safety for those staying at home. But beyond the pandemic, telehealth allows individuals that are immuno-compromised, disabled and/or living in rural areas to have access to much-needed medical care.

IJ is a national nonprofit, civil rights law firm that has worked to remove and reduce licensing restrictions for nearly 30 years, including in medical professions. IJ currently has two pending lawsuits in South Carolina and Texas challenging limits on providing medical advice online. Moreover, IJ challenges certificate of need laws and law prohibiting doctors from distributing prescription drugs. These letters are part of IJ’s larger effort to ensure that government responds to the current health and economic crisis in a commonsense fashion, by cutting red tape for individuals instead of creating more of it.

Jaimie Cavanaugh is available for interviews via phone or teleconference.