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WASHINGTON (October 23, 2020)—U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act late Friday, 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-Ala.), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“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 Sen. 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. 

“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 Sen. 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.”

If passed, the 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 Leading Age, the Visiting Nurse Associations, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), and the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.

“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 William A. 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 Sens. Collins and Cardin, and Reps. Marshall, Sewell, Arrington and Thompson for their continued leadership in enabling patients to safely receive care in the home.”

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