Since the COVID-19 crisis, physicians have been wondering whether they can treat patients anywhere in the country. Because telehealth lets you connect with patients in any location they have an internet connection, a doctor might as easily see a patient the across the country as across town.
On March 15, for instance, the federal government waived all state licensure requirements for physicians for purposes of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement during the COVID-19 crisis. Previously, one of the expectations for physicians participating in Medicare was that they have a state license in the state they are furnishing services. Now, with telehealth, a physician can perform and bill for Medicare or Medicaid services anywhere across the country, even if he or she doesn’t have a license in that state.
However, states still need to take similar action to permit physicians to practice in their state without a state-specific license. Since states are responsible for actually licensing doctors according to their particular medical board rules, a federal waiver does not affect their requirements for licensing. So far, a number of states have in one way or another waived their requirements that a physician hold a license in their state if the physician holds a license in another state. California and Florida, for instance, will permit any licensed physician to perform services in their states currently. Other states, like Texas and North Carolina, have not gone that far, but have set up expedited licensing processes for out-of-state physicians looking to assist via telehealth during the emergency. When a state does this, not only is the service able to be covered by Medicare and other payors, but the physician is better protected from any allegation that he or she is practicing medicine without a license. Better still, the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC) allows doctors in a participating state to quickly obtain licenses from all other member states (currently at 28 states). Using these three methods together (licensure waivers, temporary emergency licenses, and the IMLC process), physicians can obtain licensure in nearly the entire country on a rapid basis.
The federal government is strongly encouraging states to adopt a temporary licensure waiver or set up expedited processing for licenses. In a letter sent to all governors, the Department of Health and Human Services asked all states to temporarily suspend their licensing requirements if a physician was licensed in another state. While this is not mandatory, many have taken this approach. Notably, the guidelines for licensure are changing daily, particularly as states start to face higher incidents of COVID-19 diagnoses and are needing to react to the spike in demand for healthcare services. It is important to check the current status of waivers and temporary licenses to understand what is and is not permitted in each state – CovidMD is monitoring these changes in real time to assist our practitioners in providing these critical services in a compliant way.