By Mike Tighe
A new Wisconsin law that provides a time-saving and waste-slashing process for doctors to be licensed in multiple states will expand health-care access in rural areas and, eventually, help curb rising costs throughout the country, proponents say.
The bill, which Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Monday at Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare in Sparta, makes Wisconsin a party to the Interstate Physician Licensure Compact.
That pact, which has been in the works for several years before finally taking effect this year, eliminates much of the red tape and costs required for doctors licensed in one state to gain credentials in the 11 other member states.
Often referred to as license portability, the compact is especially important in the Coulee Region because Mayo-Franciscan is affiliated with the Mayo Clinic not only in Rochester, Minn., but also at Mayo sites throughout the country, and Gundersen Health System provides services in a 19-county area of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
"It will provide a significant decrease in the time, effort and expense of having every physician who physically crosses a state line or does medicine virtually go through the licensing process in each state," said Dr. Tim Johnson, CEO of Mayo-Franciscan.
With physician licensing a state role rather than federal, "one license is a big deal, but more really become a burden" to both doctors and hospitals, he said.
"As we do more and more virtual medicine, the number of doctors able to do telemedicine will expand exponentially," Johnson said.
"Mayo Clinic doctors see patients in all 50 states," he said. "That becomes a big deal. It is good for patients, and good for health care."
Before the bill was signed -- and in states that have not joined the compact -- doctors have had to follow the time-consuming process of submitting full applications and paying a substantial fee in each state where they want licenses.
Now, they will be able to licensed in what they designate as their home state and use that paperwork to gain credentials in other states.
The next step is for the Interstate Medical Licensure Commission to determine criteria under which states will accept other members' licenses, said Eric Tempelis, government relations director at Gundersen who has been involved in drafting plans for the compact. The commission, which will convene its second meeting Friday in Salt Lake City, has a goal of having all 50 states in the compact.
"Once started, it will make it easier for doctors to be licensed, and it will be easier for hospitals to hire doctors and get consultations from other states," he said.
A process that previously could take months for final approval will be able to be completed within days, Tempelis said.
"In rural and underserved areas, that is where this could be a huge change," he said.
Echoing that sentiment is Kim Hawthorne, administrator of Mayo-Franciscan's Sparta campus, who said, "In essence, we will be able to improve the outcomes for patients in rural areas."
The Mayo system now has 200 doctors in Wisconsin who also are licensed in Minnesota, and 500 Minnesota physicians also licensed in Wisconsin, all under the old procedures, Hawthorne said.
Streamlining the process for so many doctors and hospitals will help erase waste and redundancies that do little except increase health-care costs, she said.
Although Tempelis said it is difficult to predict when savings will trickle down to patients' bills because the process is complex and there are front-end costs, he said, "long-term, we expect savings."
Similarly, Hawthorne said, "As we eliminate waste from health care, it really does help us chip away at the costs, or at least at the escalation of costs."
The measure, which Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, sponsored in the Assembly, and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, sponsored in the Senate, passed the Assembly on a vote of 95-1 on Sept. 24 and the Senate, with a 31-1 vote on Nov. 19.
(c)2015 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)