This week, Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus reintroduced the Protecting Access to Post-Covid-19 Telehealth Act of 2020 (the “Act”) with support from Co-Chairs Rep. Peter Welch (VT-AL), Rep. Bill Johnson (OH-06), and Rep. David Schweikert (AZ-06) and caucus member Rep. Doris Matsui (CA-06). The Act was originally introduced in the House of Representatives on July 16, 2020. The focus of the Act is to do away with certain restrictions on providing telehealth services, and to permanently expand coverage for telehealth services both during and beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic. Among other things, the Act:
- Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to waive certain requirements with respect to Medicare coverage of telehealth services furnished during an emergency disaster or public health emergency and through 90 days after the expiration of the emergency disaster or public health emergency period. The Act also empowers HHS to expand Medicare coverage of telehealth services provided during future emergencies;
- Expands coverage for telehealth services provided at federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics that serve as distant sites;
- Permanently eliminates geographic restrictions applicable to originating sites. This means that telehealth services may be provided to patients in their home; and
- Requires a study on the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 Pandemic, including its costs, uptake rates, measurable health outcomes, and racial and geographic disparities.
Rep. Thompson’s office issued a Press Release stating that: “Telehealth has been a game changer during the Coronavirus pandemic, ensuring that patients can continue to get care while reducing the spread of the virus during routine medical visits. However, patients could face an abrupt end to the practice once the pandemic is over, even though it’s long been a proven and cost-effective way to get care . . .”
It is important to note that although the Act focuses on generally expanding coverage and support for telehealth services, it does not address certain hot button issues that states have struggled with. This includes: payment parity that would allow telehealth services to be covered as though they were provided in-person, interstate licensing requirements and standards and restrictions around the quality of care being provided via telehealth.