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Congress Eyes HHS Analysis of Telehealth During COVID-19 Crisis

A bill introduced this week on Capitol Hill would require the Health and Human Services Department to study how telehealth has been used during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a report due back one year after the emergency ends.


By Eric Wicklund

– A new bill before Congress calls for a study of whether telehealth has improved access and care outcomes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Introduced this past Monday by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), the Evaluating Disparities and Outcomes of Telehealth During the COVID-19 Emergency Act of 2020 (HR 7078) would reportedly order the Health and Human Services Department to study telehealth use during the emergency and report back to Congress one year after the emergency has ended.

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The bill – the text for which had been received as of June 3 – joins a growing list of efforts to keep connected health programs and concepts front and center beyond COVID-19. Some states and payers have moved to make telehealth coverage permanent, while several members of Congress are lobbying Congressional leaders to extend regulatory freedoms for telehealth in areas such as children’s health and mental health.

Kelly’s bill, first noted by Politico at the beginning of the week, would direct HHS Secretary Alex Azar to oversee the study, which would include overall telehealth traffic, the different types of telehealth services offered to patients, the modalities used and the types of healthcare locations – hospitals, doctor’s offices, health clinics, the patient’s home, etc. – where care was delivered.

The bill, and many of the other actions taken so far, aim to establish new coverage policies for telehealth either before or soon after current emergency telehealth rules end. One particular target is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which has issued a series of wide-ranging decrees aimed at expanding Medicare and Medicaid coverage during the pandemic.

“Data and information and research informs policy and resources, and that’s what we’re trying to do — gather as much information and really study the issue quickly before CMS regulations do run out,” Kelly told Politico this week.