So… what about that public health emergency?


SO … WHAT ABOUT THAT PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY?: You may have forgotten it based on the latest tweet thunderstorm, but last week Trump declared he was going to declare a public health emergency. The necessary paperwork, however, has not yet been filed. For digital health, that non-declaration is important: a public health declaration would allow HHS Secretary Tom Price to loosen regulations on opioid addiction therapy via telemedicine; it would also allow Price to relax privacy regulations.

We (I and Health Care colleague Brianna Ehley) caught up with former Rep. Patrick Kennedy — a member of the commission, and a mental health advocate — to learn more.

“We’re undoubtedly going to need to do telemedicine [to solve the crisis],” Kennedy said, noting that rural areas, with the fewest clinicians, are hit hardest by the opioid troubles. “So few can prescribe buprenorphine,” he said, so loosening Ryan-Haight regulations — which govern prescribers’ ability to write scrip for controlled substances via telemedicine — makes sense.

Kennedy also supported more latitude under privacy laws to disclose information related to substance abuse. Not informing families about opioid dependence is “literally costing us lives,” he said, because ignorance make it hard for families to focus on addicted sons, daughters, parents and cousins.

He hasn’t been informed of the status of the emergency declaration, Kennedy said, but the commission would be meeting with Price and FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in September.

The commission recommends passage of privacy-overhaul bills — notably those championed by Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Tim Murphy. “In the meantime, we also can have executive action take the place of that legislation until it’s passed,” he said. “Wherever possible, obviously. Legislation offers the fullest opportunity to make changes.”

— Behavioral health tech: More broadly, Kennedy is enthusiastic about the potential of health care technology to help with behavioral and mental health problems. He’s planning on attending CMS’s Sept. 6 conference on behavioral health innovation to advocate for value-based pay and other methods of reimbursing telemedicine and novel technology.

“We’ve seen a cautious view to reimbursing these technologies,” he said, citing voice recognition technology as one method of detecting changes in mood and cognitive functioning. Cancer-fighting technology of equivalent promise, he said, is more likely to be reimbursed.

Kennedy is also hoping for more telemedicine reimbursement, which could help incentivize “curbside consults,” aiding primary care doctors with psychiatric expertise.

To view the article via the publications’ website, click here.