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A group of Senators is asking CMS to expand coverage for telehealth services delivered by home health care providers.

With Congress and the government still haggling over how to extend telehealth coverage beyond the coronavirus pandemic, a group of Senators is pushing for additional flexibilities for home health care providers.

In a letter to the heads of the Health and Human Services Department and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, five Democratic Senators are calling for better reimbursements for connected health services delivered by home health care providers, as well as efforts to improve accessibility for patients who qualify for home health care.

CMS “has been generous in the telehealth waivers granted to many Medicare providers (during the coronavirus pandemic), but efforts have fallen short in regards to home health,” the letter reads. “Under current law, CMS allows HHAs to provide telehealth to those under their care, but they will not reimburse HHAs for those services as ‘virtual visits.’ Allowing Medicare payments to HHAs for telehealth services would increase vital access to these services and provide a way to reduce risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus while helping to reduce the need for hospitalizations and PPE.”

“Telehealth is already a tool employed by HHAs, who can use telehealth for evaluation and assessment of a patient’s condition, teaching and training of self care and rehabilitative activities, social work and behavioral health interventions, direct therapy services, medication management, and more,” the letter continues.

The letter, signed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), highlights a long-standing issue that has angered home health care providers: they can use telehealth, but they either won’t get paid for those services or they still have to provide in-person care that telehealth could replace or augment.

The problem has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, during which CMS has relaxed the rules for Medicare coverage of telehealth services in many areas, but did very little for home health care. The agency has unveiled a proposed rule to permanently expand some coverage, but it doesn’t address the reimbursement issue.

In their letter, the Senators noted that certain services offered by home health care providers – including care for wounds, surgical sites and catheters and start-of-care admissions – should always be done in person, but the payment model should be revised to give providers more opportunities to use telehealth when appropriate.

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