FTC Voices Support for VA Telehealth Proposed Rule

Add one more voice to the chorus of those who approve of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) new proposed rule on telehealth. The staff of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently weighed in, submitting comments to the VA in support of the rule. “FTC staff believe that the proposed rule would likely increase access to telehealth services, increase the supply of telehealth providers, increase the range of choices available to patients, improve health care outcomes, and reduce the VA’s health care costs, thereby benefiting veterans, especially those in underserved areas or who are unable to travel,” the agency said in a press release. “The VA’s rulemaking would also send an important signal to non-VA health care providers, state legislatures, employers, patients, and others regarding the tremendous potential of telehealth to promote competition and improve access to care.”

As we reported last month when its draft text was released in the Federal Register, the VA rule is designed to facilitate patient access to care regardless of physical location, by permitting all VA physicians to treat patients via telehealth across state lines, regardless of where they’re licensed. The new rule, its text asserts, would “achieve important Federal interests by increasing the availability of mental health, specialty, and general clinical care for all beneficiaries.” The FTC is one of many to weigh in with their support for the rule and general VA efforts to expand telehealth access; groups including the American Medical Association (AMA) and Health IT Now, among others, have also voiced approval.

The VA has long been a leader in the use of telehealth and remote monitoring to treat its patients. Indeed, in 2015, the agency’s providers completed more than 2.1 million telehealth visits, 45 percent of which were with rural patients. The agency’s telehealth proposed rule is a cornerstone of its “Anywhere to Anywhere VA Health Care” initiative, which they announced in August. Speaking at a rollout event at the time, VA Secretary David Shulkin told audience members that the initiative would facilitate patients’ access to care regardless of their physical location. “We’re removing geography as a barrier so that we can speed up access to veterans and really honor our commitment to them,” he said. Also included in Anywhere to Anywhere are two apps: VA Video Connect and the Veteran Appointment Request (VAR) app. VA Video Connect, per the VA, would allow patients to securely connect with members of their health care team for mobile video visits.

Click here to read the FTC press release about their support for the VA telehealth proposed rule.

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