The DEA and HHS have extended virtual prescribing flexibilities until the end of 2024, allowing healthcare providers to prescribe controlled substances via telehealth without prior in-person exams. This decision comes after strong opposition from healthcare organizations and stakeholders to the DEA’s initial plans to restrict virtual prescriptions. The extension addresses concerns about patient access to essential medications, and it is supported by telehealth advocates. It also coincides with the extension of other pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities until 2024, signifying a significant year ahead for telehealth innovations.
In a significant decision aimed at addressing the concerns of healthcare providers and organizations, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have announced an extension of virtual prescribing flexibilities until the end of 2024. This move allows healthcare providers to continue prescribing controlled substances, such as Adderall and Vicodin, via telehealth without the need for a prior in-person examination.
This extension comes in response to strong opposition from various stakeholders within the healthcare industry regarding the DEA’s initial plans to restrict virtual prescriptions of controlled substances once the public health emergency (PHE) declaration ended. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the DEA temporarily relaxed the requirement for in-person examinations before telehealth prescribing of controlled substances to enhance patient access to essential medications.
In February, the DEA proposed permanent changes to the telehealth rules governing virtual prescribing, intending to maintain the ability to remotely prescribe a 30-day supply of certain controlled medications. However, it did not extend this flexibility to Schedule II controlled substances, including Adderall, Oxycodone, Vicodin, and Ritalin.
The proposal received extensive feedback, with many healthcare organizations expressing concerns that these rules would impose additional burdens and administrative requirements, potentially hindering patient access to necessary treatments.
Following this feedback, the DEA extended virtual prescribing flexibilities until November and conducted listening sessions. During these sessions, stakeholders urged the DEA to permanently permit virtual prescriptions without the prerequisite of an in-person examination.
Healthcare providers and experts also advocated for the establishment of a telemedicine special registration process to ensure patient safety. This process would allow practitioners to affirm their commitment to safety protocols, such as having a plan for in-person assessments when necessary.
The latest extension has garnered support from telehealth advocates, who view it as a positive step toward facilitating patient-centered care. Kyle Zebley, senior vice president of public policy at the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), welcomed the decision, emphasizing its importance for both patients and clinicians.
However, it’s worth noting that the extension sets the stage for significant developments in telehealth in the coming year, with numerous other pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities extended until the end of 2024. These extensions include the removal of geographic restrictions on originating sites for telehealth services and the continued coverage of audio-only telehealth services under the Medicare program.