US lawmakers want to ensure pandemic telehealth coverage doesn’t expire

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 28, 2022
Updated 2022/01/28 at 9:35 PM

The pandemic has prompted US lawmakers to provide provisions to expand medical coverage for telehealth in 2020, speeding up a process that would otherwise take years. Since then, there have been efforts to make the change permanent, through things like the Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021. But there is an interim period that may present some uncertainty about whether people can obtain crucial telehealth services while permanent legislation is drafted. Today, a bipartisan group of 45 lawmakers, led by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), they said they are “calling that the extension of expanded telehealth services coverage be included in mandatory legislation in February.”

The group published a letter addressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as their minority counterparts and notable signatories include Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D- Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The letter states that “as Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we ask that you include an extension of pandemic telehealth authorities in mandatory government funding legislation in February.”

Pandemic telehealth decision makers currently have temporary authority, and this is tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. As stated in today’s letter, the declaration of emergency is renewed in three-month increments. “Without a more definitive understanding of the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term telehealth coverage, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth.”

In addition to providing more confidence to providers that investing in telehealth will be a solid long-term investment, adding an extension to telehealth coverage and making it permanent will also “reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly”.

Lawmakers called for “an extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time,” which the letter said would “give needed certainty to healthcare providers and patients.” They believe an extension would also allow additional time to conduct studies on the impact of telehealth, which “could help inform Congress’ next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections.” .

Therefore, the group is also calling to ensure that “an extension does not include unnecessary statutory barriers to accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period,” which could prevent people from getting essential care.

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