Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act, a bipartisan bill to provide Medicare reimbursement for audio and video telehealth services furnished by home health agencies during the COVID-19 emergency and future public health emergencies. U.S. Representatives Roger Marshall (R-KS), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Jodey Arrington (R-TX), and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“Home health serves a vital role in helping our nation’s seniors avoid more costly hospital visits and nursing home stays. The COVID-19 emergency has further underscored the critical importance of home health services and highlighted how these agencies are able to use telehealth to provide skilled care to their patients,” said Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee. “This bipartisan bill would ensure that seniors in Maine and across the country retain access to remote home health services during the COVID-19 emergency and future public health emergencies.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged home health providers’ ability to provide care to patients in their homes. Home health providers have been able to overcome these challenges by utilizing telehealth to deliver some services to Medicare beneficiaries,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee. “This legislation allows home health services to be provided via telehealth during a public health emergency in order to ensure patients receive needed care.”
The Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act would authorize Medicare reimbursement for home health services provided through telehealth during a public health emergency where telehealth can be used appropriately. The services would not be reimbursed unless the beneficiary consents to receiving the services via telehealth. To ensure that the Medicare home health benefit does not become a telehealth-only benefit, Medicare reimbursement would only be provided if the telehealth services constitute no more than half of the billable visits made during the 30-day payment period.
The bipartisan bill has been endorsed by several home health organizations and agencies, including Northern Light Health, MaineHealth Care at Home, LeadingAge, the Visiting Nurse Associations of America, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), and the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.
“On behalf of Northern Light Home Care clinicians and patients in our care, I want to thank Senator Susan Collins for her outstanding leadership in sponsoring legislation to require Medicare to cover home care services provided by visual or audio telehealth communication during an emergency period. During the COVID-19 pandemic our nurses and therapists cared for patients throughout the State of Maine providing telehealth care allowing the patient to stay at home and receive essential clinical services. Access to telehealth care in the home avoided hospital or emergency room care for thousands of patients including children, older adults and individuals living in shelters,” said Lisa Harvey-McPherson RN, Northern Light Health Vice President Government Relations.
“We are grateful to Senator Collins for sponsoring this important legislation that will provide critical support for telehealth services during times of public health emergency. Though telehealth has proven to be a highly efficient and effective means of providing needed care, particularly for our seniors, Medicare reimbursement continues to present a barrier to realizing its full potential. This bill takes an important step to expand access to needed telehealth services that have proven to improve health outcomes while reducing total costs for patients with chronic health care conditions,” said Donna Deblois, President of MaineHealth Care at Home.
“Many of our home health members have been providing critical services without reimbursement during the pandemic. The HEAT Act would resolve this inequity and put our home health members on par with all other providers with regards to flexibility during this and future public health emergencies. LeadingAge and our partners VNAA/ElevatingHOME thank the sponsors, Senators Collins and Cardin and Representatives Sewell, Marshall, Arrington, and Thompson, for all of their work on this important legislation,” said Katie Smith Sloan, President/CEO of LeadingAge and Acting President/CEO of the Visiting Nurse Associations of America/ElevatingHOME.
“From the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic it has been well known that limiting person-to-person contact is key in reducing transmission and infection rates,” said Bill Dombi, President of NAHC. “Enabling home health agencies to incorporate telehealth visits into the plan of care, with reimbursement, will unlock new means of safe care delivery bringing peace of mind to Medicare beneficiaries. This bill, the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act, will ensure that home health providers are able to utilize the full array of tools at their fingertips to reduce the risk of virus transmission, protecting patients in their homes, and health care professionals on the frontlines. NAHC thanks Senators Collins and Cardin, and Representatives Marshall, Sewell, Arrington and Thompson for their continued leadership in enabling patients to safely receive care in the home.”
“The Partnership applauds Senators Collins and Cardin for their introduction of this important legislation, which supports the provision of telehealth to Medicare home health patients. We thank the Senators for their ongoing and steadfast support for home health. It’s especially important during the COVID19 pandemic, as home health is an even more important lifeline for America’s disabled and elderly community,” said Joanne Cunningham, Executive Director, Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.