Judge Orders Temporary Injunction Against Texas Telehealth Rules

June 1, 2015 in News

On Friday, a U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary injunction against a Texas Medical Board rule restricting the use of telehealth in the state, the Texas Tribune reports (Walters, Texas Tribune, 5/30).

Background

In January, the medical board issued an emergency rule prohibiting physicians from prescribing drugs via telehealth without meeting with a patient in person.

In April, the Texas Medical Board then voted 13-1 to prohibit the use of telehealth in the state for prescribing drugs or diagnosing conditions except in limited circumstances.

The new rule allows for certain exceptions in which a physician can diagnose conditions or prescribe medications via phone or video, including if:

  • The patient is at a health care facility, including a clinic, hospital or pharmacy; and
  • Another health care worker — such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant — is with the patient.

Mental health telehealth visits also are exempt from the new rules.

In late April, telehealth services provider Teladoc filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state medical board, alleging that the restrictions violate antitrust laws and stifle competition.

The suit argues that the board violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by approving restrictions that explicitly discourage competition by attempting to prevent out-of-state doctors from competing with those in Texas (iHealthBeat, 5/1).

Details of Ruling

Under the injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, the Texas Medical Board’s new rules cannot be enforced until after the lawsuit is resolved.

They were scheduled to go into effect on June 3.

In his decision, Pitman said the board’s rules harm competition by requiring in-person visits (Dvorak, FierceHealthIT, 6/1). Pitman also cited the state’s physician shortage as evidence.

He said, “Elimination of physicians providing health care [via telehealth] would thus negatively impact not just the competitor physicians, but consumers, a classic anti-trust injury.”

Reaction

While the anti-trust lawsuit has not concluded, Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic called the recent decision a victory for telehealth providers.

He said, “Today’s court ruling allows Texans to continue enjoying” the benefits of telehealth “[i]n the face of increasing physician shortages and rising health care costs.”

Meanwhile, Texas Medical Association President Tom Garcia in a statement said he was “sorely disappointed” with the decision, noting that “TMA supports the challenged rules and believe[s] they fulfill the board’s mission” of “[p]rotecting patient health and safety and improving the quality of patient care” (Texas Tribune, 5/30).

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