FTC Wants to be a Champion for Telemedicine Providers

In a public comment supporting Alaska’s proposed telemedicine legislation, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC or Commission) reiterated its broad support for telemedicine services, quoting its own 2004 analysis: “When used properly, telemedicine has considerable promise as a mechanism to broaden access, lower costs, and improve health care quality.”

Two years ago, Alaska enacted a law that allowed physicians licensed and located in Alaska to prescribe drugs without conducting a physical examination under certain circumstances. Though this legislation expanded telemedicine services in the expansive and mainly rural state, it applies only if the physician is located in Alaska and the physician or another licensed health care provider in the same group practice is available to provide follow-up care.

A proposed bill, however, would expand the availability of telemedicine services by eliminating the requirement that the physician be physically located in Alaska. This change would double the available pool of Alaska-licensed physicians, as a recent study found that approximately 2,000 Alaska physicians remained in Alaska while an additional 2,000 were located out-of-state. An increase in the supply of medical provides has the potential to achieve the FTC’s three favorite goals: (1) increase competition among practitioners; (2) reduce costs to patients; and (3) enhance the quality of care readily available to remote patients.

The FTC seized this opportunity to reinforce the analysis from its 2004 report, “Improving Health Care: A Dose of Competition.” Noting that telemedicine has “crystallized tensions between the states’ role in ensuring patients have access to quality care and the anticompetitive effects of protecting in-state physicians from out-of-state competition,” the FTC once again called on state legislatures to reduce barriers to telemedicine and competition from out-of-state providers. The FTC acknowledged that state boards of medicine have an important interest in protecting patients from fraud and malpractice, but the Commission clearly desires “the expansion of services from nationwide direct-to-consumer telehealth companies.” A telemedicine company looking to break down state-imposed barriers will have the FTC in its corner.

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