Arizona Just Found a Way to Reduce Healthcare Costs

Expanding telehealth is a no-brainer for consumers and health care providers. Here’s why.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey just signed legislation that would permanently expand the use of telehealth in the state.

Last year, in response to the pandemic, Ducey issued several executive orders that peeled back Arizona’s regulations on telehealth and expanded service across the state. The new legislation essentially makes those orders permanent.

In 1996, Arizona’s legislature launched one of the nation’s first telepsychiatry networks along with the Arizona Telemedicine Program—a pilot program with eight sites to serve the Arizona prison system and underserved rural communities. But while the state was initially on the cutting edge of the technological sector in healthcare, it lagged other states in the following years. It wasn’t until 2014 that Arizona passed doctor-patient protections for the internet, and even then, very few telehealth services were covered under their laws.

The nation has been grappling with the expansion of telehealth services for decades, and many states have yet to pass meaningful reform that would bring the medical field into the twenty-first century by allowing remote care. Add to that other regulations, like the inability to work under an occupational license from another state or the prohibition of offering medical services across state lines, and it becomes easy to understand why so many areas of the country are in “medical deserts”—facing long wait times to see a doctor, high prices due to a small number of providers, or a lack of access to care altogether.

Arizona’s legislation addresses many of these issues. First, it changes the word telemedicine to telehealth, which may seem small, but in practice means insurance will be more inclusive of holistic providers and services. It adds audio-only visits to the definition of telemedicine, which means those without internet may still access care via phone. This is especially important in rural and impoverished areas.

It also allows asynchronous services as an exam modality for establishing a provider-patient relationship and prescribing or dispersing prescriptions, and it expands the state’s currently very short list of recognized telemedicine providers to include any clinical provider.

Notably, the law doesn’t specify telehealth technologies or uses but instead puts those judgements where they belong—in the hands of clinical providers. And, it allows healthcare providers licensed in other states to provide telehealth services to people in Arizona.

These are incredible advancements that will likely have numerous positive results.

For starters, patients will have access to a wider range of providers. That means they’ll be able to shop around more, find better options, and compare prices. Secondly, patients will have more expedient care. This is especially impactful for those in rural areas, disabled patients, and those with mental health care needs, who often find it difficult to get to physical appointments.

Furthermore, the easing of occupational licensing restrictions and inclusions of a broader range of services mean patients will have a much greater supply of care options—that means lower costs, faster service, and more choice in decisions they wish to make for themselves.

This is especially impactful for those in rural areas, disabled patients, and those with mental health care needs, who often find it difficult to get to physical appointments.

This law is also great for providers. It will allow them to see more patients while jumping through fewer hoops to provide care. The ability to see more patients can produce higher revenues, which in turn can incentivize more individuals to enter the field—a desperately needed event in sectors like family medicine.

Our lawmakers, insurance companies, and medical associations are prone to engaging in political exchanges. This means it's possible for these private groups to achieve regulatory capture, which allows them to use government policy to restrict the supply of doctors, prefer some providers over others, increase the barriers to entry in the market, and drive up prices for the consumer. It’s good for the industry insiders, but very bad for the American people and the majority of providers.

As Ayn Rand said, ““Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others.”

Our government has interfered in numerous sectors of our economy, but perhaps nowhere more than in the healthcare sector, and it has been wrecked for decades because of it. As a result, healthcare prices are through the roof, while prices of other goods and services have been falling for decades.

The expansion of telehealth is a much needed shot of competition in the arm, and it’s one we shouldn’t have needed a pandemic to get a dose of.