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In lieu of permanent policy change, industry groups urged legislators to extend temporary telehealth flexibilities through the end of 2021.

By Kat Jercich December 14, 2020 10:21 AM

The American Telemedicine Association, the Connected Health Initiative and other industry groups issued a letter to Congress on Friday urging legislators to extend temporary telehealth flexibilities until the end of 2021.

The groups, which also include Healthcare IT News‘ parent company HIMSS, noted that the COVID-19 public health emergency has ushered in an unprecedented expansion to telehealth.   

At the same time, however, providers and patients face continued uncertainty about the future of virtual care – made even more tenuous by legislators’ failure, thus far, to enact permanent changes to telemedicine policies.   

“The continued risk of telehealth flexibilities ending with each subsequent 90-day renewal of the PHE adds additional uncertainty to an already strained health care delivery system. Patients and their health care professionals should not have to worry if they will be able to continue to receive or deliver necessary care,” read the letter.  

WHY IT MATTERS  

In the letter, the ATA, the Connected Health Initiative and HIMSS – joined by the Alliance for Connected Care, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, the eHealth Initiative, the Heath Innovation Alliance and PCHAlliance – noted that COVID-19 had triggered relaxations of restrictions around telehealth.   

That flexibility, in turn, shed light on how arbitrary some of those restrictions were.  

In lieu of enacting permanent policies, the groups urged Congress in its end-of-year package to extend many of the temporary changes through next year.   

These changes include:  

  • Removing geographic restrictions
  • Allowing the location of the patient (including the patient’s home) to be an originating site 
  • Giving HHS the authority to determine appropriate telehealth services and providers
  • Allowing Federally Qualified Health Centers, Rural Health Clinics and Critical Access Hospitals to furnish telehealth and be fairly reimbursed  

“We believe this extension is a reasonable policy that will help provide certainty for patients and providers as we work together on permanent reform in 2021,” read the letter.  

THE LARGER TREND  

Legislators have put forth several bills that would make some, if not all, flexibilities around telehealth permanent. These have included the Telehealth Modernization Act and the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act

Despite bipartisan support such legislation has failed to gather significant momentum.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently issued a final rule making permanent some changes to telehealth, although Administrator Seema Verma said it would be up to Congress to ensure virtual care would not return to a wholly rural benefit.

ON THE RECORD  

“There is no time like the present for passing needed common sense permanent reform to ensure telehealth services remain a lifeline for millions of Americans in rural and underserved communities after the public health emergency is rescinded,” said ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson in a statement.

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