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Lawmakers Resubmit Telehealth Bills Targeting Kids’ Health, COVID-19 Effects

By March 2, 2021No Comments

By Eric Wicklund

Two more telehealth bills have returned to Capitol Hill after failing to make it through last year’s session. One takes on kids’ health and other calls for an HHS study of how telehealth has effected care delivery.

– Two more telehealth bills have resurfaced on Capitol Hill, joining a growing package of legislation aimed at improving connected health coverage and access after the coronavirus pandemic.

US Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX) last week reintroduced the Telehealth Improvement for Kids’ Essential Services (TIKES) Act (HR 1397), which aims to boost telehealth coverage through state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) services.

While no text is available for this bill, Rochester and Burgess, who first submitted the bill last October, said last year that it would “provide guidance and strategies” to help states integrate telehealth in Medicaid and CHIP programs and mandate telehealth studies from both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC). It would build upon a 25-page CMS toolkit unveiled in April 2020 that’s designed to help states expand telehealth coverage under Medicaid and CHIP to deal with the pandemic.

“Amidst the pain and suffering that our nation has endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a major takeaway has been the advantage of telehealth,” Burgess said then. “There is a convenience factor to not having to take time to physically transport yourself to the doctor’s office and have your child sit in a waiting room with other potentially sick patients. This bipartisan legislation will improve utilization of telehealth by requiring the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide guidance to states on how to make the most of telehealth options in their Medicaid and CHIP programs. Additionally, it directs studies to gather data that can help inform future telehealth policy.”

Also making a return appearance in Washington is the COVID-19 Emergency Telehealth Impact Reporting Act (HR 1406), which would have the Health and Human Services Department collect data on telehealth use during the pandemic and analyze how these technology platforms have affected care delivery.

“Telehealth is undoubtedly the future of health care, especially for the rural communities that I am privileged to represent,” US Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), who co-sponsored the bill submitted last July and this year’s version with US Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), said in a press release last year. “Ultimately, Congress’ objective should be to make many – if not at all – of these regulatory changes permanent. Our bill is a significant step in that direction because it will ensure we are keeping patients’ health and reducing the costs of care through value-based medicine as our top priorities as we consider expanding telehealth services throughout the country.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force last year, Congress saw several bills aimed at improving coverage for and access to telehealth services both during the after the public health emergency, but none of those bills made it out to a vote. With a new administration and Congress in place this year, the hope is that some – if not all – of these bills making a return will be approved, either individually or in some sort of package.

Just last week, the Senate saw the reintroduction of the Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act (S 340) and the Telehealth Modernization Act (S 368 and HB 1332).