July 07, 2020 – Congress is ratcheting up the pressure on the federal government to explain when and how it will rule on extending telehealth access and coverage past the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter sent last week to leaders at the Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, more than 35 Senators asked for more details on addressing the extension of telehealth freedoms, most of which are scheduled to end with the state of emergency caused by COVID-19.
“We appreciate your commitment to making these temporary telehealth flexibilities permanent – most recently with the proposed rule to permanently extend telehealth changes under the home health benefit – and ask you to provide Congress with a written plan and timeline for permanent administrative changes to Medicare rules governing the provision of telehealth,” the letter states. “We further request that you provide Congress with a list of telehealth changes that will require Congressional action.”
Specifically, the Senators are calling on HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma to:
The letter was signed by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Angus S. King, Jr. (I-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), John Boozman (R-AR.), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John Thune (R-SD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Todd Young (R-IN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Steve Daines (R-MT), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), David A. Perdue (R-GA), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), John Hoeven (R-ND) and Pat Toomey (R-PA).
Congress is also under pressure to address telehealth expansion. Roughly two weeks ago, Congressional leaders received a letter signed by more than 340 organizations, healthcare providers and connected health advocates asking them to address the same issues they’ve asked HHS and CMS officials to address.
“Given the statutory restrictions in Section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act and that the authorities granted to HHS and CMS through recent coronavirus legislation are limited to the COVID-19 public health emergency period, Congress must act to ensure that the Secretary has the appropriate flexibility to assess, transition, and codify any of the recent COVID-19-related telehealth flexibilities and ensure telehealth is regulated the same as in-person services,” that letter states. “Congress not only has the opportunity to finally bring the US healthcare system into the 21st century, but the responsibility to ensure that billions of dollars in COVID-focused investments made during the pandemic are not wasted and instead used to support the transformation of care delivery and ultimately, expand access to high quality virtual care to all Americans.”
The letter was signed by, among others, the Alliance for Connected Care, American Telemedicine Association, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), Consumer Technology Association, eHealth Initiative, Global Partnership for Telehealth, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and The Joint Commission.
Telehealth advocates may not have to wait too long to see where CMS is headed.
In a panel session during last month’s ATA virtual conference, Emily Yoder, an analyst in CMS’ Division of Practitioner Services, said Congress has the authority to make policy changes, while CMS must focus on regulatory changes.
Yoder said CMS expects to file proposed regulatory changes for Medicare coverage of telehealth ithis month in the Federal Register, and urged telehealth providers and advocates to be ready to comment on the proposals.