The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is looking for legislative assistance from Congress to ensure that the agency can continue to provide care to veterans via telehealth appointments.
Matt Rogers, director of the VA’s National Clinical Resource Hub, said on March 2 that the agency is working alongside other Federal entities to support new regulations that will provide veteran care through telehealth appointments.
“There are some important pandemic authorities that are set to expire on May 11th,” Rogers said during the VA’s monthly press conference. “We’re working with other agencies on new Federal regulations to support ongoing Veteran care via telehealth.”
President Biden told Congress last month that he will end the COVID-19 emergency on May 11 – which began at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The lift of the public health emergency will prompt complex changes in the healthcare sector, including telehealth accessibility.
“In addition to those Federal regulations,” Rogers continued, “VA is seeking legislative assistance from Congress to ensure we can treat all Veterans equitably when prescribing treatments through telehealth irrespective of state lines.”
VA Secretary Denis McDonough said during the press conference that recently proposed rules from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were an “important first step” in ensuring that veterans can be prescribed treatments via telehealth.
Late last month, the DEA announced proposed permanent rules for the prescribing of controlled medications via telemedicine, expanding patient access to critical therapies beyond the scheduled end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The rules were developed in close coordination with the VA and propose to extend many of the flexibilities adopted during the public health emergency with appropriate safeguards.
“DEA is committed to ensuring that all Americans can access needed medications,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “The permanent expansion of telemedicine flexibilities would continue greater access to care for patients across the country, while ensuring the safety of patients.”
“DEA is committed to the expansion of telemedicine with guardrails that prevent the online overprescribing of controlled medications that can cause harm,” she said.
McDonough said DEA’s proposed rules ensure the VA can continue to provide care to veterans, but it’s only the first step to be able to maintain their ability to provide timely care to 40,000 veterans who get their prescriptions across state lines.
“I really want to underscore this point that we need help from Congress to be able to continue as robustly as we currently do prescribing across state lines,” McDonough said. “We need legislative relief from Congress.”
“We’ve been talking with them about this for the last year,” he continued, adding, “We’ll keep talking to them about it and we’re really hopeful that they can help us get this done.”