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ATA, HIMSS Lobby Congress to Extend Telehealth Freedoms Through ‘21

By December 18, 2020 No Comments

By Eric Wicklund

In a letter to Congressional leaders, several telehealth groups have asked that emergency measures enacted during the coronavirus pandemic be kept in place through 2021 as Congress continues to work on long-term coverage.

– Telehealth advocates are lobbying Congress to get something done before the end of the year to ensure continued access to and coverage of telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter last week to Congressional leaders, the group called for the extension of connected health flexibilities during the public health emergency through the end of 2021. This would keep in place emergency provisions that remove geographic restrictions to telehealth, allow the patient’s home to be an originating site for telehealth services, give the Health and Human Services department the authority to approve telehealth services and providers and enable federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), rural health clinics (RHCs) and critical access hospitals (CAHs) to be reimbursed for telehealth.

“Since many of these needed policies are contingent upon the PHE, millions of Americans risk losing access to vital health care services unless you and your colleagues takes specific actions,” the letter states. “Additionally, the continued risk of telehealth flexibilities ending with each subsequent 90-day renewal of the PHE adds additional uncertainty to an already strained health care delivery system. Patients and their health care professionals should not have to worry if they will be able to continue to receive or deliver necessary care.”

The letter is the latest salvo in the ongoing battle to make these emergency measures permanent, so that healthcare providers can continue the momentum seen in telehealth use past the COVID-19 emergency and plan long-term telehealth strategies.

Some states and even a few payers have taken that action, while many others are waiting on the federal government to take action.

Congress has been flooded with dozens of bills seeking permanent expansion of telehealth access and coverage, and has in the past included some measures in pandemic relief and stimulus packages, but there’s no guarantee that another bill will be passed or that any telehealth legislation would be included in it.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, meanwhile, has advanced telehealth, mHealth and remote patient monitoring coverage in its 2021 Physician Fee Schedule, though critics have said the new guidelines don’t go far enough, and that Congress needs to take the lead.

The letter is signed by the American Telemedicine Association, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), Alliance for Connected Care, eHealth Initiative, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), Connected Health Initiative, Health Innovation Alliance and Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHA).

“There is no time like the present for passing needed common sense permanent reform to ensure telehealth services remain a lifeline for millions of Americans in rural and underserved communities after the public health emergency is rescinded,” ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson said in a press release accompanying the letter. “Absent the timely enactment of permanent policies, we urge Congress to extend these temporary flexibilities for as long as possible, to at least provide one year of certainty and enable patients to continue to receive care when and where they need it.”