A measure that would join Washington with 18 other states in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact was met with favorable testimony in the a Thursday, March 9 Senate Health Care Committee public hearing. The bill recently cleared the Washington State House by an overwhelming majority.
This week, representatives from medical associations and other stakeholders argued the bill would streamline the process for top-notch physicians to practice in Washington, bolster patient safety, and encourage the development of telemedicine as a up-and-coming service for sick Washingtonians and people across state lines.
Improving Medical Reach Through Telemedicine
State Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-3) is prime sponsor of HB 1337. On Thursday, he told committee members the legislation “will make it easier for physicians to practice in Washington and use telemedicine.”
“I know we’re all passionate about our underserved and rural areas getting the access they need,” he added. “This relieves physicians from the burden to get licensed in each state individually, and the participation in the compact is voluntary…we know the technological advances made in telemedicine are a greater way to bring more doctors online faster.”
The measure’s companion, SB 5221, ultimately stalled in the Rules Committee in mid-February. In January, proponents of that bill argued joining the interstate compact would create a favorable environment for people interested in practicing medicine, and attract more practitioners to the state.
On February 15, the State House approved HB 1337 in a 94-3 vote, with one excused. Members voting in favor included Riccelli, Minority Caucus Vice Chair Joe Schmick (R-9), and State Reps. Eileen Cody (D-34), Cary Condotta (R-12), Steve Tharinger (D-24), and Assistant Minority Floor Leader Matt Manweller (R-13). The three lawmakers opposed to the passage of the measure were State Reps. Bob McCaslin (R-4), Minority Caucus Chair Matt Shea (R-4), and David Taylor (R-15).
Under the bill, Washington would adopt the compact’s guidelines word-for-word. Physicians operating within one of the compact’s member states could apply for an expedited licensing process in another. To be considered for the streamlined option, applicants must have a clean disciplinary record, not currently be under investigation, and have passed both a high-level medical exam and a graduate medical education program.
Potential Downsides To Compact Noted
During executive session of the bill, Schmick said the continued advancement of telemedicine across the state warrants Washington joining the compact. However, he cautioned his colleagues about a few issues that might arise from operating under it.
“This is a thumbs up, thumbs down vote,” he said. “We don’t get to affect any of the rules of the compact. If something happens in another state or even our state that does not trigger a complaint or an investigation, we will not know that behavior, it is not reported.”
For the state’s medical sector stakeholders, the bill would be a welcomed addition to boost the growth of telemedicine, and simplify licensing processes.
“It allows us to get people licensed faster,” Micah Matthews told the Senate Health Care Committee this week. He is Deputy Executive Director of the Washington State Medical Commission.
“Personally speaking, it allows me to not have to work on my staff quite as hard as they’ve been doing, because we’ve had a 30 percent increase in (physician) applications on the medical licensure side,” he added.
Enhancing Interstate Medical Care
Ian Goodhew, Director of Government Relations for University of Washington (UW) Medicine said, “It’s a very transparent process and it would make it easier for our doctors to provide that interstate care.”
UW’s Harborview Medical Center is the only Level-1 adult and pediatric trauma center for Washington, Alaska, and two of the compact’s member states: Montana and Idaho. Goodhew argued Washington’s participation will allow for better communication and coordination between member states.
Under the current system, “we end up having a lot of our physicians…(who) treat patients from other states come to us but then eventually return to their home states,” said Goodhew. “Our physicians will often times have to work out one-off deals with physicians back in those states to make sure that the care is occurring and can’t necessarily deal directly with the patient, or they go through the process of applying for a license in each state to provide follow-up care.”
Compact Only For ‘Cream of The Crop’ Physicians
“We already have physicians applying for licenses across state lines and into Washington state,” said Katie Kolan. “We don’t want a duplicative process, we want an expedited licensure process.”
She is Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for the Washington State Medical Association. Kolan told committee members, “It’s only the cream of the crop docs who are allowed to apply, and frankly, the security for us from a physician access perspective and patient safety perspective is the guiding laws where the patient is located. We think that offers the best protection to patients and we want to make sure that we keep it that way. Wherever that doctor is practicing, that patient is safe.”