Board Faces Telehealth|Antitrust Claims

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – A federal judge declined to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit over the Texas Medical Board’s sweeping regulations of “telehealth services” company Teladoc.
     Teladoc sued the Texas Medical Board, or TMB, in April, claiming that a rule requiring doctors to meet with patients in-person before treating them remotely is a violation of antitrust laws. The Dallas-based company also challenged an “emergency rule” mandating that a doctor conduct a face-to-face visit with a patient before prescribing medication.
     U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman rejected the medical board’s arguments for dismissal this week, finding that Teladoc’s allegations are “sufficient at this early stage of the litigation.”
     In Monday’s ruling, Pitman didn’t buy the medical board’s argument that the lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations and that it is immune from antitrust liability as a state agency.
     Teladoc says it uses telecommunication technologies to connect health care providers with patients outside the traditional in-person office or hospital setting. The company employs board-certified physicians who are provided specialized training in treatment and diagnosis via telephone, according to its complaint.
     The lawsuit argues that the 14-member medical board violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by approving restrictions that stifle competition by attempting to prevent out-of-state doctors from competing with those in Texas.
     Teladoc claims that the medical board’s new restrictions on telemedicine will result in Texans facing higher prices for medical care, as well as reduced access to doctors.
     In May, Pitman blocked a TMB rule that would have prevented Teladoc from offering its services in Texas, writing that Teladoc was “likely to succeed on the merits of their claim under the Sherman Act.”
     Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic said in a statement that the company views the decision as “a major victory for consumers.”
     “We are very pleased with the court’s decision and the growing wave of support of telehealth” he said. “This ruling is only the latest in a string of legal victories for us in Texas, in federal and state courts.”
     The medical board’s rule did allow certain exceptions in which a telehealth doctor can diagnose conditions or prescribe medications remotely, including if the patient is at a health care facility, or if another medical worker is with the patient. Mental health telehealth visits are also exempt from the rule.
     Teladoc bills itself as the nation’s first and largest telehealth platform, connecting more than 12.6 million U.S. members to a network of over 2,650 board-certified, state-licensed physicians. The company performed 550,000 telehealth visits in 2015, according to its website.

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