FTC Staff Comment: Alaska Legislature Should Consider Potential Benefits to Consumers of Expanding Access to Telehealth Services

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Federal Trade Commission staff submitted a comment, as public testimony, to the Alaska legislature on proposed legislation that would allow licensed Alaska physicians located out-of-state to provide telehealth services in the same manner as in-state physicians. 

The comment, submitted by staff of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning, Bureau of Competition and Bureau of Economics, notes that telehealth – using telecommunications to provide health care services to patients remotely  – has long been a staple of Alaskan health care delivery because of the state’s vast size, rural nature, and harsh conditions. Under current Alaska law, out-of-state physicians are generally precluded from providing telehealth services, because only physicians located in the state are allowed to prescribe medications without conducting a physical examination. The proposed legislation, a part of Senate Bill 74 (SB 74), would expand the availability of telehealth services by eliminating that “in-state” requirement. It also would allow certain Alaska-licensed behavioral health professionals to provide services remotely.

“By eliminating the ‘in-state’ requirement, SB 74 would likely expand the supply of telehealth providers, promote competition, and increase access to safe and cost-effective care. It could also reduce transportation costs for Alaska patients and providers,” the comment states. “For these reasons, the elimination of the ‘in-state’ requirement by SB 74 appears to be a procompetitive improvement in the law that would benefit Alaska health care consumers, including its most vulnerable populations.”

The Commission vote to issue the staff comment was 4-0. It was sent to Representative Steve Thompson, Co-Chair, House Finance Committee, Alaska State Legislature, on March 25, 2016. (FTC File No. V160009; the staff contact is Karen A. Goldman, Office of Policy Planning, 202-326-2574).

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