Vittorio Nastasi Policy Analyst, Reason Foundation Adjunct Scholar, The James Madison Institute
Sal Nuzzo Vice President of Policy, The James Madison Institute
Click here to read the full report “Expanding Access to Telehealth in Florida: Recent Progress and Opportunities for Improvement”
COVID-19 has highlighted the need for flexibility in our healthcare system. However, the patchwork of regulations and burdensome licensing requirements that govern the delivery of healthcare services presents a barrier to adaptation and innovation. Recognizing this problem, governors in nearly every state acted wisely to loosen regulatory obstacles to care for the duration of the pandemic. Emergency orders across the country temporarily suspended licensing requirements and restrictions on telehealth services to allow healthcare providers to practice across state lines.
Over the last year, these actions have helped ensure access to care––particularly through the use of telehealth. In fact, as stay- at-home orders caused in-person outpatient visits to decline nationally, increased use of telehealth made up for some of the gap in care. The shaded area in FIGURE 1 reflects this increased use of telehealth. A recent analysis of insurance claims data from a national sample of 16.7 million individuals with commercial and Medicare Advantage insurance provides state-level insights into these trends.2 In Florida, total weekly visits declined by 24 percent
between May 20th and June 16th of 2020. Over that same period, telehealth visits accounted for 17.4 percent of total visits in Florida.3 Going forward, lawmakers should acknowledge that overly restrictive regulations aren’t just a problem during a crisis––they limit access to care every day. Fortunately for Floridians, law- makers in the Sunshine State have long recognized the potential tradeoffs associated with healthcare regulation. In recent years, lawmakers passed scope of practice reforms and enacted one of the best telehealth laws in the country. However, experiences from the pandemic still offer valuable lessons and point to opportunities for improvement.