Governor Janet Mills issued an executive order today that eases occupational licensing rules for health professionals and makes telehealth services more accessible for Mainers.
Both orders align with the recommendations made to the governor last week by Maine Policy Institute, however further action could be taken on the telehealth front.
The first order signed today by Governor Mills gives greater flexibility to physicians, physician assistants and nurses to practice in Maine. According to the order, those who are licensed in these professions in other states and in good standing can now:
- Receive an emergency license to provide health care services via telehealth to Maine people with no application fee;
- See patients via telehealth without obtaining a license if already serving those patients at out-of-state locations;
- Get their licenses automatically renewed during the state of emergency if their active license is about to expire;
- Suspend conforming to physician oversight requirements for physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses; and
- Immediately reactivate their license immediately with no application fee if retired:
In addition, the order enables all physicians, physician assistants and nurses licensed in Maine and other states to provide telehealth services through just about any method, including audio, video and other electronic means.
This action to allow providers outside of Maine to treat Maine patients will increase access to care during this health emergency, and Governor Mills and lawmakers should seek to make these rules permanent when they (potentially) return to Augusta later this year to finish the remaining work of the 129th Legislature.
The governor also took steps to expand telehealth consistent with new emergency rules set by the federal government. Eric Cioppa, the superintendent of insurance in Maine, signed an order requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for services delivered by telephone and phone applications like FaceTime, WhatsApp and Skype.
“The telehealth order allows health care providers greater options in delivering care to Mainers,” said Cioppa. “The change will allow people to have virtual house calls, providing them with the health care they need, while at the same time maintaining social distancing.”
However, the order also requires insurance carriers to pay providers for telehalth services at the same rate they would pay for an in-person visit, called payment parity. Since a lot of the overhead involved with visiting a doctor’s office doesn’t exist via telehealth, this is an area where the governor’s order could be better.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services also announced an emergency rule change that allows for prescribing through telehealth within Medicaid, which already pays the same rate for most covered services whether delivered in person or through telehealth, according to the governor’s press release.
It is still unknown if the governor’s administration plans to take action on Maine’s certificate of need law or the state’s tax filing deadline, which is still scheduled for April 15. The federal government has extended the federal tax filing deadline to July 15.
As of Wednesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control was reporting 142 Mainers have contracted COVID-19.