When the pandemic led to a lockdown, life as we know it became very different. Medical appointments were only for emergencies, masks were required to be worn within a medical office or hospital, and the necessary measure of telehealth became more commonplace. Some measures have continued despite the lockdown lift. Telehealth allows those unable to leave a certain state or area due to illness or travel restrictions to continue to receive their medications, even across state lines. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ ability to provide care was bolstered by telehealth visits.
The COVID-19 healthcare measures put in place, especially for those utilizing telehealth, will expire May 11th per an announcement by President Joe Biden in January. The end of these measures means the end of federal allowances for hospitals treating patients with COVID-19 and the end of free COVID-19 home testing or vaccines.
The telehealth measurement has been extended until December 2024. The extension also included audio-only telehealth coverage, which is key, especially for older patients who may not have a smartphone or laptop to utilize audio-video telehealth websites or applications. The extension of telehealth capabilities allows for a time period for Congress to assess and provide a more permanent solution for telehealth.
In May, the extension of the ability to initiate controlled substances like opioids, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medication, and benzodiazepines for anxiety will require an in-person medical evaluation. In addition, medications within the VA system will have to be prescribed within the state. Within the COVID-19 measures, medications could be prescribed across state lines. This is a concern for Congress as many veterans are older and may be in rural locations with mental health needs that would require medication. For instance, a veteran in rural Kentucky may have been receiving care from a VA clinic in Indiana due to distance. If the measures end, the veteran would have to change care from their long-time provider.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough cited that a veteran living in rural Colorado receives prescription renewals from a VA Clinical Resource Hub in Boise, Idaho, and further stated that the VA was working to preserve the cross-state prescriptive authority.