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The Federal Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act: What You Need to Know

By February 15, 2022No Comments

Source: Health Care Law Today/Foley & Lardner LLP

By: Thomas B. Ferrante and nathaniel M. Lacktman – 02.15.22

“We’re still feeling the impacts of coronavirus, especially in older and more vulnerable populations, which is why these telehealth services must be extended.”

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

On February 7, 2022, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the Telemedicine Extension and Evaluation Act, an important bipartisan legislation to ensure predictable patient access to telehealth following the end of the public health emergency, allow more time to gather data around virtual care utilization and efficacy, and avoid a sudden drop-off in access to care (known as the telehealth cliff).

What is the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act?

The Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act would establish a two-year extension for certain COVID-19 emergency telehealth waivers. The legislation aims to extend the waivers of the geographic and site restrictions and allow Medicare beneficiaries to access telehealth even when at home; allow controlled substances to be prescribed via an initial telehealth encounter under the Ryan Haight Act; and extend Medicare payment flexibilities for Rural Health Centers (RHCs), Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). To address Medicare program integrity concerns, the bill also introduces in-person restrictions on telehealth orders for certain high-cost durable medical equipment (DME) and laboratory tests. It also contains language that might serve to restrict the use of “incident to” billing for telehealth services.

“The waivers were a key part in allowing healthcare providers to meet patients where they live, and we risk reversing the great progress we have seen if we go back to the way things were prior to the pandemic.”

– René Quashie, Vice President, Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Digital Health, Consumer Technology Association

The bill follows an advocacy letter signed by 336 organizations, co-led by the American Telemedicine Association and other leading stakeholders, urging Congressional leaders to continue the current telehealth waivers and enact permanent, evidence-based telehealth legislation for implementation in 2024.

Key Takeaways for the Telehealth Industry

Here are the key takeaways on how the new legislation may affect the telehealth industry.

1. General Extension of Medicare Payment for Telehealth Services

Under the CARES Act, Congress gave CMS authority to waive certain limitations on Medicare coverage and payment for telehealth services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries, clearing the way for Medicare beneficiaries to receive care in their homes. If passed into law, the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act would extend certain Medicare telehealth payment waivers on originating site and geographic location limitations, expand the list of permissible telehealth providers, and broaden the availably of audio-only telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries for two years after the public health emergency ends. Read our prior coverage here and here.

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