As we first wrote about in May, telehealth in the age of COVID-19 has been gaining a lot of traction. Patients and doctors alike have found it to be a safer, and often more convenient alternative to in-person visits, especially in rural areas where healthcare delivery options are limited.
Its increase in use has led to more flexibility, particularly when it comes to removing some of the barriers that previously were in place, such as reimbursement as well as matters relating to licensing, i.e. doctors caring for patients outside of the state in which they are licensed.
In an effort to ensure that the telehealth industry isn’t forced to take a step backward after the public health emergency, a group of more than 300 organizations and physician groups late last month sent a letter to Congress asking members to pass legislation that will make some of the temporary flexibilities permanent.
“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 reads.
From the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America to Zocdoc, those in the healthcare industry point out that not only have federal health plans seen an exponential growth in the use of telehealth, but private plans have followed suit, allowing 46 percent of Americans to replace a cancelled healthcare visit with a telehealth service during the pandemic.
However, the letter points out that these flexibilities only exist during the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. “Absent additional action from Congress, Medicare beneficiaries will abruptly lose access to nearly all recently expanded coverage of telehealth services when the emergency declaration ends,” the letter warns.
The letter asks Congress to address the following:
Remove Obsolete Restrictions on the Location of the Patient by striking the section 1834(m) geographic limitation on originating sites and allow beneficiaries across the country to receive virtual care in their homes, or location of their choosing, where clinically appropriate and with beneficiary protections and guardrails in place.
Maintain and Enhance HHS Authority to Determine Appropriate Providers and Services for Telehealth by providing the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the flexibility to expand the list of eligible practitioners who may furnish clinically appropriate telehealth services.
Ensure Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics Can Furnish Telehealth Services after the Public Health Emergency by allowing federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics (RHCs) to offer virtual services post-COVID and work with stakeholders to support fair and appropriate reimbursement for these key safety net providers.
Make Permanent HHS Temporary Waiver Authority During Emergencies.
While telehealth cannot replace all in-person visits, it has started an expanded conversation into how it can best be used.
Last month, American Telemedicine Association President Dr. Joe Kvedar delivered the keynote address during which he noted that while telehealth has now become a household word, there is still much to be done, particularly in the area of technology.
“We have a lot more work to do,” he said, particularly when it comes to breaking barriers around synchronicity. “We have the opportunity to re-imagine healthcare delivery.”
As we also previously wrote about, the explosion of telehealth also could lead to an explosion of healthcare-related fraud.
Several lawmakers have already shown a willingness to bring forward legislation that will help to expand the use of telehealth. You can find those bills that have been introduced by clicking here.
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