The bill proposes extending Medicare reimbursement for a range of telehealth services, including substance abuse treatment, for two years after the public health emergency has ended.
A new piece of bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the US Senate that aims to extend access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
Dubbed the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, the bill was introduced by US Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Todd Young (R-IN).
The legislation includes provisions that would allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend Medicare reimbursement for several telehealth services for two years after the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended. These include coverage for services provided by critical access hospitals, federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and reimbursement for virtual substance abuse treatment.
The bill also includes a provision to extend waivers allowing the prescription of controlled substances via telehealth.
In addition to proposing extended telehealth flexibilities, the legislation also commissions a study on the impact of those flexibilities. The study results will help Congress decide which telehealth flexibilities to make permanent following the pandemic.
“The telehealth flexibilities put in place by Congress during the early days of the COVID pandemic played a critical role in allowing the most vulnerable Hoosiers to access care safely,” said Young in a news release. “As Congress evaluates which changes to make permanent, many of these flexibilities are set to expire. We should act now to ensure seniors continue to benefit from these important remote healthcare services.”
The Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, which has been referred to the Committee on Finance, is already seeing support from prominent organizations in the virtual care space.
“This legislation will provide certainty to beneficiaries and healthcare providers alike while ensuring sufficient time is taken to analyze the impact of telehealth on patient care throughout the pandemic to inform permanent telehealth reform,” said Krista Drobac, executive director of the Alliance for Connected Care, in a statement.
The new bill joins numerous others winding their way through Congress. These include the Telehealth Extension Act, Connect for Health Act, and the Telehealth Modernization Act, which recently gained two new co-sponsors.
As legislation piles up in Congress, external pressure to extend telehealth flexibilities builds.
In the past few weeks alone, numerous letters have been sent to Congress urging leaders to act on telehealth waivers that are set to expire or reinstate already expired provisions.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic began exposing gaps in our healthcare system, telehealth enabled critical access to high-quality care for patients and providers alike,” said Tom Leary, head of government relations at HIMSS, in a Jan. 31 press release tied to a letter urging action on telehealth access. “Over the past two years, millions of Americans have gained firsthand experience with the benefits of telehealth and other virtual care tools, and they want to keep those benefits. With so much uncertainty remaining around telehealth permanence, we now call on Congress to ensure millions of Americans don’t lose access to this care and to take action to enact comprehensive telehealth reform.”