Is a doctor licensed in Idaho or Washington qualified to treat patients in Montana? Almost certainly. Then why does it take 3-4 months for an out-of-state doctor to get licensed to treat patients in Montana?
Let Healthcare Professionals Get To Work
"Universal Licensure Recognition could be one idea to boost health care access that both Democrats and Republicans can champion together, for the good of Montana patients."
It’s no secret that Montana has severe health care shortages. In fact, our entire state is designated by the federal government as “medically underserved.” We simply need access to as many doctors, nurses, PA’s etc. as we can get. Yet, Montana’s licensure requirements for out-of-state health care professionals pose one of the biggest barriers to expanding health care access in Montana.
There’s nothing preventing Montana patients from traversing state boundaries to seek out health care from doctors in other states. Many health plans even encourage this. But if that out-of-state doctor wants to follow up with their Montana patient on a video call, they must become licensed to practice here.
Many doctors will be the first to admit they don’t have the time or resources to become licensed in every state their patients might reside in — besides, they’ve already demonstrated the qualifications for licensure in their own state. Vendors that assist doctors with licensure in Montana estimate that the entire process realistically takes 3-4 months to complete. That’s a lot of red tape to jump through for an out-of-state specialist who may treat just a handful of Montana patients. Many will simply opt-out.
Thus, licensure red tape can turn what could be quick and easy follow ups for Montana patients via telehealth into multiple long road trips to see their doctor in another state.
Thankfully, Montana already has a proven policy remedy to address this problem. During COVID, Montana made the “the rapid licensure, renewal of licensure, or reactivation of licensure” a top priority to quickly expand our health care workforce. Montana saw that the complex, time-consuming and expensive state licensing regulations were one of the biggest barriers to allowing out-of-state health care workers to practice in Montana. Emergency regulatory flexibilities allowed a streamlined process for medical professionals to become licensed to practice as long as they could prove they had a license in good standing in another state.
Nearly 2,500 medical professionals received a temporary license under this streamlined system, with many practicing virtually. This is a big deal given that some studies estimate Montana has a shortage of around 900 doctors. The expiration of emergency orders means that those 2,500 licenses are now terminated, requiring out-of-state providers to go through the burdensome and costly professional licensing process to continue practicing in Montana.
To preserve access to health care, the pandemic model of universal licensure recognition is something Montana leaders should make permanent. If “the rapid licensure, renewal of licensure, or reactivation of licensure” helped expand health care access during the pandemic, why not continue to make this a top priority?
Universal licensure reforms even have a potential to be a bipartisan affair. The last update to Montana’s out-of-state licensing standards came in 2019 thanks to Democrat Representative Katie Sullivan, which moved Montana closer to full universal licensure. This shows red tape relief doesn’t just have to be a right-of-center priority.
We already know that Gov. Greg Gianforte plans to bring sweeping licensure reforms forward in 2023, marching Montana closer to full universal licensure by strengthening the department’s “ability to recognize licenses issued in another state when those licensing requirements are substantially equal to Montana’s requirements.” Universal Licensure Recognition could be one idea to boost health care access that both Democrats and Republicans can champion together, for the good of Montana patients.
This column originally appeared in Lee Newspapers