New Jersey faces lawsuit challenging telehealth restrictions



(The Center Square) — New Jersey is violating the constitutional rights of medical patients and providers by restricting access to telehealth services in other states, according to a new lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of New Jersey residents and their out-of-state physicians, claims that New Jersey’s licensing law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause and Privileges and Immunities Clause, as well as the First and 14th amendments.

The lawyers argue that the restrictions threaten the lives of people suffering from cancer and other ailments, “as well as the rights of qualified medical specialists willing to treat them.” They said the plaintiffs seek “to vindicate their constitutional rights — and ensure they can continue to provide and receive — lifesaving care.”

“Rather than protecting the health or well-being of children, [the state’s licensing law] endangers children … who suffer from rare cancers and must seek lawful specialty treatment from experts, by restricting access to those experts,” the lawyers said.

One of the plaintiffs in the case is Jun Abell of New Jersey, who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain tumor when he was 18 months old.

The lawsuit claims New Jersey’s telehealth restrictions prevent Abell, now a teenager and in recovery, and his family from accessing care with their Boston-based physician, Dr. Shannon MacDonald, who is also a litigant in the case.

“Without telemedicine, patients suffering from rare cancers and diseases like J.A. must either forego lifesaving treatment or suffer by traveling out of state every time an appointment with a national specialist like Dr. MacDonald is needed,” the lawyers wrote. “Many cannot bear the burdens of frequent travel.”

Another patient, Hank Jennings, is a college student from New Jersey who was diagnosed with giant craniocervical junction chordoma, a rare tumor in his skull. His lawyers said the law makes it “illegal” for Jennings to conduct telehealth follow-ups with his doctor, University of Pittsburgh neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Gardner, who is also a litigant.

New Jersey was among the majority of states that suspended its licensing restrictions on telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping hospitals and health care providers respond to a surge in virus cases while continuing to care for patients’ other medical needs.

But those temporary protections were lifted with the end of the public health emergency. Under New Jersey law, physicians who provide telehealth services without an active New Jersey medical license can be charged with a third-degree crime, punishable by three to five years in prison—civil penalties for violations run up to $20,000 for multiple offenses.

Well, other states have moved to authorize cross-border telehealth. New Jersey has resisted pressure to follow suit, earning poor rankings from groups advocating for expanded post-pandemic telehealth services.

“New Jersey’s telehealth restrictions are not just wrong, they’re also unconstitutional,” the Pacific Legal Foundation said in a statement announcing its legal challenge. “The government cannot use licensing requirements to impede the exchange of information between patients and their doctors.”

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