New VA rule allows for telehealth care across state lines

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Doctors who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs in one state will now soon able to consult patients in any other state using virtual “telehealth” technology.

The technology, as is often the case, was never the barrier to this new reality. Instead, various licensing restrictions and state-specific telehealth laws meant virtual visits were only available with VA doctors in the state where the veteran resided.

Now, the VA is using federal privileges to override the patchwork of state laws with a single rule that takes effect June 11: Doctors anywhere can treat patients anywhere. It’s called the “Authority of Health Care Providers to Practice Telehealth” rule.

“This new rule is critical to VA’s ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’ initiative,” VA Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “Now that the rule has been finalized, VA providers and patients can start enjoying the full benefits of VA’s telehealth services.”

According to a press release, the VA worked with the White House Office of American Innovation and the Department of Justice in order to implement the new rule.

The intent for the rule was first announced last August at a White House event featuring former VA Secretary David Shulkin and President Donald Trump. Shulkin touted the nationwide rollout of VA Video Connect, an app that allows veterans to connect to VA providers anywhere in the country. Now, regulation is catching up with technology.

Telehealth has been a priority at the VA for years because of how it promises to allow the agency to work around regional disparities in the number and kind of healthcare providers.

“These accomplishments are only the beginning,” Trump said at the event last August. “We will not rest until all of America’s great veterans can receive the care they so richly deserve.”

The VA has seen some leadership turmoil in recent months. Trump fired Shulkin in March, only to suggest that his own White House doctor, Adm. Ronny Jackson, replace him. Jackson later dropped out of consideration after allegations of misconduct surfaced.

Acting VA CIO Scott Blackburn resigned in April. Days later he assured attendees at an event that Shulkin’s plans to transition the VA to the same electronic health record system as the Department of Defense will continue despite all the leadership disruption.

Former Trump campaign staffer Camilo Sandoval is now the VA’s acting CIO. VA spokesperson Curt Cashour told FedScoop in April that “a candidate for VA’s permanent assistant secretary for information and technology has been identified and is being vetted by the White House.”

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David Shulkin, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Donald Trump, health care, Robert Wilkie, telehealth