On Monday, 340 organizations signed a letter urging Congress to make telehealth flexibilities created during the COVID-19 pandemic, permanent.
Those signing the letter include national and regional organizations representing a range of healthcare stakeholders in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Congress quickly waived statutory barriers to allow for expanded access to telehealth at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing federal agencies with the flexibility to allow healthcare providers to deliver care virtually.
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Stakeholders also want Congress to remove restrictions on the location of the patient to ensure that all patients can access care at home, and other appropriate locations; to 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; and make permanent the Health and Human Services temporary waiver authority for future emergencies.
While federal agencies can address some of these policies going forward, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid does not have the authority to make changes to Medicare reimbursement policy for telehealth under current law, stakeholders said.
In a statement separate from the letter to Congress, Lux Research Associate Danielle Bradnan said key concerns for legislators are broadband internet access, payer reimbursement and licensure barriers, since, currently, medical licenses are only valid for specific states.
WHY THIS MATTERS
If Congress does not act before the COVID-19 public health emergency expires, current flexibilities will disappear, according to stakeholders.
The PHE is scheduled to expire in July.
In a tweet late yesterday, Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for public affairs, said HHS is expected to renew the PHE before it expires. It has already been renewed once.
THE LARGER TREND
The use of telehealth has skyrocketed under in-person restrictions under COVID-19.
Private health plans have followed suit, the letter said, resulting in a 4,300% year-over-year increase in claims for March 2020.
As states experiment with reopening – and re-closing – their economies in response to concerns around rising coronavirus cases, the report found that telemedicine visits have actually been declining since April.
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