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SUPPORT Act Eases Way for Telemedicine for Opioid Treatment

This week, on the one-year anniversary of declaring a national opioid public health emergency, President Trump signed into law the bipartisan “Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act,” known as the “SUPPORT Act” for short. The goals of the legislation are to reduce “access to and the supply of opioids” and expand “access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services” through multiple angles, including via telemedicine for opioid treatment.

Previously, Medicare would only reimburse for telemedicine services if the patient was located at an originating site that is rural; the Act eliminates this geographic restriction effective July 1, 2019. Additionally, under the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (“Haight Act”), a provider may only prescribe a controlled substance—including medical treatment for opioid use disorders—via telemedicine after an in-person exam has been conducted; this restriction has deterred the treatment of these disorders. The Haight Act contains an exception from this requirement for providers that obtain a special registration, but it has been underused; the SUPPORT Act directs the attorney general to promote this telemedicine registration.

When it comes to Medicaid, the Department of Health and Human Services has been given one year to provide guidance to states on “options for Federal reimbursement of expenditures…for furnishing services and treatment for substance use disorders, including assessment, medication-assisted treatment, counseling, medication management, and medication adherence with prescribed medication regimes, using services delivered via telehealth.”

Although rural areas have been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic and are harder to reach for treatment due to geographic isolation, with the new rules in place, telemedicine has the potential to make a significant difference in increasing access to medication-assisted treatment.

To learn more about using telemedicine in combatting opioid abuse, visit the Health and Human Services website here.

To learn more about the SUPPORT Act, visit the National Law Review here.

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