At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress waived statutory barriers to allow for expanded access to telehealth, providing federal agencies with the flexibility to allow healthcare providers to deliver care virtually. If Congress does not act before the COVID-19 public health emergency expires, current flexibilities will immediately disappear.
Therefore, 340 stakeholders have sent a message to Congress outlining the immediate actions necessary to ensure CMS has the authority to continue to make telehealth services available once the national health emergency is rescinded.
The message suggests the following:
- Remove obsolete restrictions on the location of the patient to ensure that all patients can access care at home, and other appropriate locations.
- Maintain and enhance HHS authority to determine appropriate providers and services for telehealth.
- Ensure Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics can furnish telehealth
- services after the public health emergency.
- Make permanent Health and Human Services (HHS) temporary waiver authority for future emergencies.
While federal agencies can address some of these policies going forward, according to the letter, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) does not have the authority to make changes to Medicare reimbursement policy for telehealth under the outdated Section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act. Following the priorities outlined in the letter will allow CMS to build on the experience gained during the pandemic and expand access to telehealth in a thoughtful, data-driven way.
“Too many patients are still going without care that is absolutely vital to their health and putting essential medical procedures on hold due to the pandemic or lack of access to care,” commented Scott Whitaker, president and CEO of AdvaMed. “Making recently expanded telehealth access permanent will improve patients’ ability to get care outside of doctors’ offices and other traditional health care settings and save and improve countless lives.”
“The pandemic provided us with an opportunity to see the benefits of broad telehealth adoption. Virtual care doesn’t just support COVID-19 care, it increases access to communities and consumers for whom traditional office visits don’t always work. Hundreds of organizations want Congress to make these changes permanent because they make sense clinically and financially for both providers and patients,” added Jennifer Covich Bordenick, CEO, eHealth Initiative.