Federal Spending Bill Calls for Long-Term Care Strategy for Vets, Telehealth Extensions

Among other spending allocations, Congress released an omnibus bill with provisions related to nursing homes and long-term care.

The spending package calls for a “strategy for long-term care for aging veterans” and a study on the costs of serious mental illness, including in skilled nursing and long-term care facilities.

The bill, which Congress is expected to vote on within the next week, also includes a two-year extension of Medicare telehealth provisions put in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The legislation also includes a two-year delay in implementing the Medicare telemental health in-person requirement, a two-year extension of the safe harbor to offer telehealth in High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) with Health Savings Account (HSAs), and a two-year extension of the Acute Hospital Care at Home Program.

“We asked Congress and they listened. We are truly grateful for their staunch support of telehealth. It’s now time to swiftly bring this bill to the President, for passage into law before year-end,” Kyle Zebley, senior vice president of public policy at American Telemedicine Association, said in a press release.

New programs will include geriatric psychiatry assistance for veterans in state nursing homes through a pilot program, which might include payments to non-Department of Veterans Affairs providers for services.

The study on veterans’ long-term care needs would identify needs for both institutional and non-institutional care and examine issues such as the workforce needed to support aging veterans through different long-term care options. The “design of facilities” also would be reviewed, through the lens of how designs might have to change to support “new and different care delivery models.”

The bill allocates $118.7 billion for medical care for veterans, a 22% increase from the past year.

The spending bill also includes provisions for a Secretary of Health and Human Services investigation into the direct and indirect costs of serious mental illness and the costs to the health care system, including skilled nursing and long-term care facilities and residential and inpatient treatment programs. This study would come as skilled nursing professionals have increasingly noted the unmet need for geriatric psychiatry services, and as some skilled nursing providers are branching out into behavioral health.