ATA urges Biden admin to safeguard telehealth coverage, extend public health emergency

The organization said that doing so would allow patients to continue accessing care while giving Congress time to enact permanent policies.

By Kat Jercich October 20, 2021 11:43 AM

The American Telemedicine Association issued a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra this week urging the agency to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency through at least the end of 2022.  

The organization noted that telehealth’s expanded coverage currently depends on the flexibilities enacted under the PHE.  

“Patients and providers know the ‘telehealth cliff’ is coming with the end of the PHE should Congress fail to act in time. However, a significant amount of uncertainty surrounds the question of when the PHE will actually expire,” said ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson in a statement.   

“We recognize there are many unknowns related to the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic over the next 12 to 24 months. However, we implore Secretary Becerra to provide as much predictability and certainty as possible to ensure adequate warning before patients are pushed over this looming cliff,” Johnson added.  


As the letter noted, the flexibilities implemented by HHS in response to the COVID-19 crisis have triggered an enormous uptick in virtual care use.   

Since nearly the start of the pandemic, advocates including the ATA have worked to persuade Congress to make at least some of those flexibilities permanent. Although various legislators have signaled their support, no long-term actions have yet been taken.  

“Without action from Congress, Medicare beneficiaries will abruptly lose access to nearly all recently expanded coverage of telehealth when the COVID-19 PHE ends,” wrote Mond Johnson in her letter to Becerra. “This would have a devastating effect on access to care across the entire U.S. healthcare system.”  

The ATA argues that an extended PHE would give Congress time to enact permanent policies without leaving patients in the lurch.  

“Specifically, the ATA supports any effort by the Department to indicate the expected duration of the COVID-19 PHE,” the letter read. “Further, we support your signifying that the duration would be at least through the end of calendar year 2022.  

“This type of certainty takes into account the many federal flexibilities and resources that are tied to the PHE declaration while also recognizing the current state of the pandemic and the urgent need to continue to respond to COVID-19,” it continued.  

The letter referenced the recent moves from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure some telehealth services will continue to be eligible for coverage and reimbursement through the end of 2023.   

“We believe this CMS action sets an HHS precedent for recognizing the need for temporary flexibilities to remain through 2023 and that you should apply the same logic to the PHE by offering assurances that the declaration will likely continue through at least 2022,” read the letter.  


In lieu of federal policymaking, many states have taken on some telehealth expansion themselves.  

During the pandemic, dozens of states changed telemedicine policies, with varying degrees of expansion. Still, most of those states did so via administrative action – which may not be a permanent solution after the end of the PHE.  


“The ATA appreciates Secretary Becerra’s leadership to ensure access to telehealth during the public health emergency by implementing flexibilities that have allowed clinicians across the country to provide all Americans high-quality virtual care at a time of great need” said Mond Johnson in a statement.   

“These sustained flexibilities have helped usher in a true health system transformation. Unfortunately, this progress is in jeopardy,” she said.