Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services made sweeping changes that expanded telehealth coverage for Medicare patients. A bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday would make some of them permanent.
The Protecting Access to Post-Covid-19 Telehealth Act would codify one of the most significant changes made during the Covid-19 pandemic: It would allow Medicare patients to continue to access telehealth appointments at home. Before, Medicare had limited telehealth to rural locations, and patients still had to be at a doctor’s office, nursing home, or other approved site for telehealth to be covered.
It’s more important now than it’s ever been to maintain constant communication with your patient base, and with the rapid rise of telehealth, making that communication digital is essential too.
The bill would also allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to continue reimbursing for telehealth for three months after the public health emergency ends, allowing those who had benefited from expanded telehealth coverage to access it for longer.
It would also require a study on the use of telehealth during the pandemic, and would give the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to expand telehealth for Medicare patients in future emergencies.
The American Telemedicine Association praised the bill:
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“The health of our citizens and the integrity of our healthcare system cannot withstand telehealth services to simply ‘switch off’ when the COVID-19 pandemic ends,” CEO Ann Mond Johnson said in a news release. “This legislation is an important step towards breaking down discriminatory geographic restrictions and modernizing our healthcare delivery system.”
Members of the House Telehealth Caucus introduced the bill, including representatives Mike Thompson (D- Calif.), Peter Welch (D, Vt.), Bill Johnson (R-OH), David Schweikert (R- Ariz.) and Doris Matsui (D- Calif).
Last month, a group of senators discussed telehealth policy changes they would like to keep. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) suggested keeping two: Allowing Medicare patients to have telehealth appointments at home and reimbursing for more types of specialty visits.
But more than just Medicare is needed to make telehealth more accessible in the long run. Many states have temporarily expanded telehealth coverage through their Medicaid programs, and some have even stepped up requirements for commercial insurers. In turn, several insurers have cut copays for telehealth and expanded their covered services, with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee being one of the first to say it would permanently expand what it will cover via telehealth.