Dozens of U.S. legislators push for telehealth coverage expansion￼
A bipartisan group of 45 elected officials asked congressional leadership to include a short-term extension of Medicare services in government funding legislation.
By Kat Jercich January 31, 2022 02:54 PM
Dozens of U.S. senators and representatives urged congressional leadership this past Friday to safeguard Medicare telehealth services.
Led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the bipartisan group of 45 elected officials published a letter calling for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to extend expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time, via February government funding legislation.
“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that patients continue to receive the health care they need while keeping health care providers and patients safe,” read the letter.
WHY IT MATTERS
As the officials noted, the current telehealth flexibilities are tied to the public health emergency, which is renewed in three-month increments.
Although legislators have made efforts to pass more permanent telehealth laws, none have yet made significant traction.
So, in the interim, a short-term extension of the kind that letter signers are requesting would provide what they called “much-needed certainty” to healthcare providers and patients.
“Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth,” the letter read.
“An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term. It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly,” it continued.
Legislators also pointed to the chance to collect more data on the uses and impacts of virtual care.
“This data could help inform Congress’ next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections,” the elected officials wrote.
“In the meantime, it is crucial that an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period,” they added.
THE LARGER TREND
Members of Congress have put forth several efforts toward making various COVID-19-era telehealth flexibilities permanent, including the CONNECT for Health Act and the Telehealth Modernization Act.
Meanwhile, members of the healthcare industry and advocates have ramped up their own pressure, launching a new affiliated trade organization this past week aimed at supporting the enactment of state and federal telehealth coverage throughout the country.
ON THE RECORD
“Telehealth has become an essential part of the healthcare system,” read the letter. “In February, Congress should extend the authorities that have expanded coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain access to telehealth and provide necessary certainty for Medicare telehealth coverage.”