Health Affairs Blog Posting Endorses Interstate Medical Licensing Agreements

A blog written by Robert Kocher that appeared in Health Affairs earlier this week endorses the idea of interstate physician licensing agreements as a way to improve access to health care.  Kocher currently serves on the advisory board of the Harvard Medical School Health Care Policy Department and previously worked in the Obama Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Healthcare and Economic Policy.   In his posting he notes that the current physician licensing system limits a physician’s ability to practice across state lines, which in turn has stifled the growth of telemedicine and has also resulted in problems such as specialist shortages in rural and underserved areas. 

Kocher ultimately encourages states to consider and ultimately adopt “mutual recognition agreements” that would allow physicians to more easily practice across state lines.

To read Kocher’s full blog post please click here

Expanding on Kocher’s thinking, CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts and the Federation of State Medical Boards have been working with a team of experts to assess the feasibility of a medical licensing compact. Several of the factors Kocher references in his post are driving this work—including changing demographics, the need for better and faster access to medical care in rural and underserved areas, the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the rise of telemedicine.  These factors have created unprecedented demand for health care services.

To expand Kocher’s argument even further, consider that the cost of health care in the United States has grown an average of 2.4 percent faster than the gross domestic product since 1970 and now represents 18 percent of the total GDP, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. One challenge contributing significantly to these costs is access to health care in hard-to-serve locations.

Problems accessing care is especially common in rural areas. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 21 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, but only 11 percent of medical specialists practice in those areas. The group notes that, because of this disparity, patients in these areas are frequently undeserved. These patients often do not have access to the latest research, scientific breakthroughs and medicine solely because of where they live.

Experts expect this problem to worsen as the population grows and ages and the number of insured Americans seeking health services increases as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Research published by the Annals of Family Medicine estimate the United States will need an additional 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025 to keep up with growing demands on the health care system.

A medical licensing compact has the potential to help facilitate telemedicine and widen access to a variety of medical services in underserved areas of the nation as the Affordable Care Act is implemented. Licensing compacts also provide a mechanism to ensure state regulatory agencies maintain their licensing and disciplinary authority, while simultaneously providing a framework to share information and processes that is essential to protecting patient privacy.