The federal government is extending pandemic-era “flexibility” for telehealth prescriptions.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in early 2020, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced a set of waivers to make it easier for healthcare providers to prescribe controlled substances via telehealth consultations. The changes exempted providers from key provisions of the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, a 2008 law designed to stop providers from writing prescriptions without a meaningful examination of patients. Those exceptions were set when the government’s official public health emergency ended on May 11.
But just before that deadline, the DEA announced a temporary extension of the pandemic waivers. The agency said it would allow the current exceptions to the Ryan Haight Act to continue for another six months, through November 11. The agency also announced an additional one-year grace period for cases where a provider-patient relationship is initiated prior to the November 11 deadline. That means patients who receive prescriptions for controlled substances based on telemedicine visits can continue receiving those prescriptions without an in-person visit to their prescriber through November 11, 2024, provided the provider-patient relationship begins before November 11.
One reason for the delay is the massive amount of public comment on the topic. The DEA said it had received 38,369 public comments on its proposed rules. The agency said it needs time to “closely review” those submissions.
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) hailed the extension, calling it a “reprieve” for telehealth, and an opportunity for the agency to reconsider proposed permanent rules, which the association believes would be too restrictive.
“We are hopeful that during this extension period, the DEA will revise the draft rules to address unnecessarily restrictive barriers to equitable and appropriate clinical care, such as mandating in-person visits,” said Kyle Zebley, the executive director of the ATA’s lobbying arm, ATA Action.