Earlier this week, President Joe Biden’s administration made an announcement that signals potential bad news for the ketamine telehealth industry. Effective May 11, 2023, the federal COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) declaration will end. This is likely to plunge the entire ketamine telehealth industry into chaos in the coming months.
If you are unfamiliar with the ketamine telehealth issues relative to the ongoing COVID-19 PHE declaration, I suggest you read these posts of ours:
- Ketamine, Internet Prescribing, and Telehealth– Say What?
- Ketamine Telehealth: An Update
- Ketamine Telehealth and the Looming Public Health Emergency Deadline
To summarize briefly, a federal law known as the Ryan Haight Act requires physicians to have an in-person consultation with a patient before prescribing controlled substances. The federal government waived that requirement during the PHE declaration. This allowed entrepreneurial ketamine telehealth clinics and their physicians to enter into patient relationships without in-person consults.
Now that the PHE declaration is ending, and unless Congress modifies the Ryan Haight Act (more on that below), the prior in-person consultation requirement returns for new patients. Less clear is how the federal government (and don’t forget states!) will handle physician-patient relationships developed during the PHE declaration solely by telehealth. Nobody really knows yet. This uncertainty is bad news for anyone in the ketamine telehealth industry.
Over the coming months, we are likely to hear more from federal and state regulators on these points. Biden (according to at least one report) intends to use his authority to extend certain telehealth protections:
The Biden administration and Congress previously agreed to extend waivers for telehealth programs beyond the public health emergency. Stacey Hughes, executive vice president of government relations and public policy for the American Hospital Association, said hospitals are hoping to see permanent reforms relating to telehealth and hospital-at-home programs.
As mentioned above, there have been efforts for a significant time to change federal laws and allow prescriptions via remote means. These efforts have by no means been limited to ketamine telehealth advocates – in fact, many advocates have pushed for these changes to allow remote medical services to people in places where they may not have access to psychotherapy or other forms of medical care.
And of course, there is always state law. States impose wildly different requirements on medical providers (as an aside, check out our ketamine state map to see ketamine laws by state). Even if federal law changes, state law will still differ across the map.
For the time being, things remain up in the air. There is bipartisan support for change to federal law, but as we know Congress has for very long been completely unable to act quickly. A shakeup is likely in the ketamine telehealth industry in the coming months. We expect some businesses to pivot away from ketamine telehealth entirely, and others to at least continue to offer telehealth services without in-person consults to patient relationships established during the PHE.
Stay tuned to the Psychedelics Law Blog for more updates on ketamine telehealth.