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The economy is not the only thing getting a boost from the stimulus package passed by Congress today. In an effort to expand access to virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic, more barriers to telehealth are falling with passage of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which President Donald Trump signed this afternoon.

“We believe the bill reflects the scale of challenges we face as a country and recognizes that expanding virtual care is necessary to defeat COVID-19,” said Ann Mond Johnson, MBA, MHA, CEO of ATA, the industry telemedicine association based in Washington, D.C., in a news release.

“All of a sudden people are realizing that telehealth can be an incredible tool to get people access to care, to speed diagnosis, to get them treated if necessary, and to limit the risk of person-to-person exposure and spread of the disease,” said Mond Johnson in an interview with HealthLeaders last week. “Finally regulation is beginning to catch up with what the technology can do.”

The telehealth provisions in the CARES Act build on the initial Medicare telehealth waiver authorized by Congress and announced by HHS earlier this month, according to ATA. Medicare beneficiaries can now access care when and where they need it during the pandemic, says the release, but the Act also “provides much-needed support to America’s healthcare providers who are migrating patients to virtual care platforms to reduce exposure to COVID-19.” Veterans, rural care, hospice care, and home health services will also benefit from many of the provisions.

According to ATA, the following are among the key provisions in the Act related to telehealth:

  • Allows a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) to cover telehealth services prior to a patient reaching the deductible.
     
  • Removes the COVID-19 Medicare telehealth waiver requirement that a provider must have seen the patient within the last 3 years.
     
  • Allows Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics to serve as a distant site for telehealth during the COVID-19 emergency period.
     
  • Allows qualified providers to use telehealth technologies to fulfill the hospice face-to-face recertification requirement during the COVID-19 emergency period.
     
  • Requires the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to issue clarifying guidance encouraging the use of telecommunications systems, including remote patient monitoring, to furnish home health services consistent with the beneficiary care plan during the COVID-19 emergency period.
     
  • Provides $180 million for the Health Resources and Services Administration to carry out telehealth and rural health activities.
     
  • Provides $14.4 billion to support increased demand for healthcare services at Veterans Administration (VA) facilities through telehealth, including the purchase of medical equipment and supplies, testing kits, and personal protective equipment.
     
  • Provides $2.15 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology to support increased telework, telehealth, and call center capabilities to deliver healthcare services directly related to coronavirus and mitigate the risk of virus transmission including the purchasing of devices, as well as enhanced system bandwidth and support.
     
  • Authorizes the VA to expand mental health services delivered via telehealth and enter into short-term agreements with telecommunication companies to provide veterans with temporary broadband services.

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