New, bipartisan legislation has been proposed to solidify telehealth policy based on telehealth advances and supporting research. Given the overall satisfaction and success of telehealth, bipartisan interest in supporting telehealth growth and reimbursement led to the submission of a bill titled, Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021 in support of another telehealth extension.
The new legislation was introduced into the house on July 27 in a bipartisan effort spearheaded by Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. If passed, this legislation will codify critical telehealth policies implemented during the pandemic while providing another in a series of telehealth extensions. It will also make it easier for seniors to access technologies.
The bill has been referred to the Committee on Finance. The proposed legislation would extend coverage at Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers. Medicare healthcare workers would also continue claiming reimbursement for remote patient monitoring and tracking through this telehealth extension.
Telehealth Growth Beyond Permanent Telebehavioral Health Reimbursement
Telehealth policies were first introduced during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) to allow practitioners reimbursement, interjurisdictional and other regulatory discretion got offering telehealth services. Without official action, these temporary measures will revert to their previous status five months after the expiration of the PHE if new legislation fails. Under the new Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021, telehealth services under Medicaid will be officially extended to December 31, 2024.
A typical path for lasting legislative efforts, the pains-taking, a step-by-step legislative process seen with telehealth growth over the last few decades is common. It allows stakeholders to voice support and opposition and for needed research funding to gather the required evidence.
Many stakeholders hope this next telehealth extension will buy enough time for parallel efforts to gain the needed momentum to eventually solidify telehealth gains permanent into a permanent law requiring reimbursement on par with in-person care. As discussed in previous Telehealth.org articles, complete and permanent reimbursement is expected for telebehavioral health Medicare beneficiaries, starting January 1, 2023. The final decision will be published in the 2023 Physician Fee Schedule. This notable step in Medicare reimbursement would apply to teletherapy for psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists and counselors.
Support for the Telehealth Extension
On introducing the bill, Congresswomen Liz Cheney and Debbie Dingell pointed to telehealth growth amongst the elderly during the pandemic. They expressed the hope that the telehealth extension would encourage this trend by cutting red tape.
- Congresswoman Cheney said the legislation would ensure the public can continue using new innovative medical technologies.
- Congresswoman Debbie Dingell said that she hoped removing the barriers would ensure that everyone could access telehealth in the future.
The bill also received support from healthcare organizations, including:
- President of the American Medical Association, Gerald E. Harmon, confirmed AMA’s endorsement of the legislation that, he said, brought “Medicare telehealth coverage into the 21st century.” He said that the bill would encourage further the telehealth growth seen during COVID-19 and noted that the costs of using the service had proven reasonable.
- The Connected Health Initiative encourages the use of digital healthcare.
- The Wyoming Hospital Association added that allowing telehealth extension into the RHCs and FQHCs was essential to ensuring that people in rural areas continued receiving insurance-backed telehealth care.
- The President and CEO of the Association of Medical Colleges, David J. Skorton, stated “commending the House for its bipartisan commitment to telehealth access.”
New Telehealth Growth Legislation
The telehealth extension would offer welcome relief to those accustomed to remote consultations. It reduces the need for time-consuming and costly visits to healthcare facilities, particularly for those who live in rural areas where healthcare services are often miles away. The Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021 will likely continue to drive telehealth growth toward needed frontiers.
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