Senators introduce bipartisan bill to extend patient access to telehealth through 2024

February 8, 2022 - New legislation would allow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to extend Medicare payments for a broad range of telehealth services, including substance abuse treatment, for an additional two years.

Two U.S. senators introduced bipartisan legislation Monday to extend current Medicare telehealth reimbursement waivers an additional two years following the end of the public health emergency.

If passed, the bill, the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act (PDF), would also extend current Drug Enforcement Administration telehealth prescribing waivers for two years after the COVID-19 PHE period.

U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, and Todd Young, R-Indiana, introduced the bill.

"Seniors across Nevada have benefited immensely from having access to a wide range of telehealth services throughout the pandemic, and we need to make sure they continue to have access to quality care from their homes" said Cortez Masto in a statement. "We're still feeling the impacts of coronavirus, especially in older and more vulnerable populations, which is why these telehealth services must be extended."

The legislation would allow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to extend Medicare payments for a broad range of telehealth services, including substance abuse treatment, for an additional two years. The bill would also commission a study on the impact of the pandemic telehealth flexibilities extended in the bill in order to better inform Congress' work to make telehealth flexibilities permanent.

Cortez Masto also introduced bipartisan legislation to permanently expand access to telehealth services for Americans with high-deductible health plans and legislation to ensure Medicare Advantage enrollees can access affordable to telehealth during the pandemic, even if they can only make an audio connection to providers.

"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. 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 health care services," said Young in a statement.

Many healthcare groups applauded the legislation as a way to expand access to virtual care.

"By extending the current telehealth waivers by two years after the end of the COVID-19 PHE, the Telehealth Expansion and Evaluation Act would provide much-needed certainty to providers and patients who have come to rely on telehealth as a critical tool to deliver and access high-quality care," said Jen Covich Bordenick, CEO of Executives for Health Innovation (EHI), in a statement. "We urge Congress to quickly act to pass this bipartisan legislation as an important step toward permanent reform."

Last week, more than 330 organizations, including EHI, the Alliance for Connected Care and the American Telemedicine Association, sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for temporary extension of telehealth waivers as a pathway toward permanent telehealth policies.

The legislation also includes extremely important provisions to ensure the continued provision of telehealth services by critical access hospitals, rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers along with provisions to ensure continued access to medication-assisted treatment through telehealth, according to the Alliance for Connected Care.

"We call on Congress to take up and pass the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act this spring," said Alliance for Connected Care Executive Director Krista Drobac in a statement.

Healthcare providers across the nation have made substantial investments in new technologies to safely treat patients during the pandemic. Many of the telehealth flexibilities that have improved patient access to care are temporary and limited to the duration of the COVID-19 PHE—and impact both public health programs and private health coverage, the industry groups say.

By: Heather Landi
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