The coronavirus pandemic has brought attention to physician shortages in certain regions of the United States. At a March 18 press conference, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “at the President’s direction,” would issue a regulation that day allowing “all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines to meet the needs of hospitals that may arise in adjoining areas.” As of 11:00 AM on March 26, however, no such regulation had been released.
If implemented, a regulation preempting state licensure requirements would rank among the most extreme measures ever taken by HHS in response to a public health crisis. Traditionally, states are free to determine and enforce their own licensing standards; while some states have adopted flexible reciprocity policies, others including New York have resisted doing so. To date, only 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam are members of the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, an agreement between states that allows physicians to practice medicine across state lines if they meet the agreed-upon eligibility requirements. New York is not currently a member state, although Compact legislation was introduced in the New York State Senate on February 12, 2020.The administration’s decision to waive individual state licensure requirements follows on the heels of several steps taken in recent days to relax regulations and streamline access to COVID-19 testing and care. One such measure, announced by HHS’ Office for Civil Rights on March 17, waives potential penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers using unsecured communications technologies to provide telehealth services.
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