Statement of U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner on DEA Extension of Current Flexibilities Around Telehealth Prescriptions of Certain Medications
May 03 2023
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the statement below after the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that it would extend current flexibilities around telehealth prescriptions of controlled substances, including those that treat opioid use disorder and anxiety, while it reviews a record number of comments received in response to its new proposed telemedicine rules. This move follows strong advocacy by Sen. Warner, who spoke out in March about the need to ensure that patients can continue getting their medications and sent a letter to DEA in August 2022 asking them to explain their plan for continuity of care after the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
“I’m pleased to see that the DEA is taking additional time to consider the comments to their proposed rule, which I believe overlooked the key benefits and lessons learned during the pandemic. This proposed rule could counterproductively exacerbate the opioid crisis and push patients to seek dangerous alternatives to proper health care, such as self-medicating, by removing a telehealth option in many cases. I’m working with my colleagues in Congress on a response to DEA’s proposed rule, and I look forward to further robust discussion on this critical issue.”
During COVID-19, patients widely adopted telehealth as a convenient and accessible way to get care remotely. This was made possible by the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, which allowed for a number of flexibilities, including utilizing an exception to the in-person medical evaluation requirement under the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, legislation regulating the online prescription of controlled substances. With the Public Health Emergency set to expire, patients will soon lose the ability to reap the benefits of a mature telehealth system in which responsible providers know how to take care of their patients remotely when appropriate.
Since 2008, Congress has directed the DEA to set up a special registration process, another exception process under the Ryan Haight Act, that would open up the door for quality health care providers to evaluate a patient and prescribe controlled substances over telehealth safely, as they’ve done during the pandemic. This special registration process has yet to be established, and DEA wrote they believe this proposed rule fulfills those Congressional mandates, despite not proposing such a registration.
Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a longtime advocate for increased access to telehealth. He is a co-author of the CONNECT for Health Act, which would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities permanent, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors. He previously wrote to both the Biden and Trump administrations, urging the DEA to finalize regulations long-delayed by prior administrations allowing doctors to prescribe controlled substances through telehealth. Sen. Warner also sent a letter to Senate leadership during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services.
In 2018, Sen. Warner included a provision to expand financial coverage for virtual substance use treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including in cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.