How legislation can continue to help patients who need telehealth

Doctor writing on a notepad


This month, Congress passed its 2022 omnibus spending bill, which expanded coverage of telehealth services under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A massive win for the 130 million patients that rely on these services for their healthcare, the provision extended coverage for certain telehealth services for 151 days (until September 14th) after the pandemic-era public health emergency ends in April. Four main components were included to offer better care to patients, including:

  • Allowing Medicare-enrolled providers to bill for telehealth services and cover all telehealth visits in a patient’s home and medical facilities.
  • Incorporates virtual audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech pathology into its list of reimbursable services and allows corresponding practitioners to provide those services.
  • Helps older adults seek virtual mental health services, as it postpones the requirement that they have an in-person appointment six months after receiving a telehealth visit.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent federal body that advises Congress on Medicare policy, will study telehealth services' impact on patients throughout the following year. However, telehealth has garnered much support over the last two years. On January 28th, 45 members of Congress wrote the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives asking them to introduce legislation that would permanently expand Medicare coverage for telemedicine and eradicate obstacles, noting telehealth's capacity to "expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes." On January 31st, a second letter was sent to Congressional leadership in support of making the expanded flexibility around Medicare telehealth coverage available since the beginning of the pandemic permanent. It had 336 signatures total, including the American Telehealth Association, the Alliance of Community Health Plans, the American Medical Association, and multiple other healthcare and nonprofit organizations.


Continuing to broaden telemedicine access

With these new provisions in place and increased support, continuing to deliver the care that patients need is on the right track, but more work is to be done. Several legislative efforts are underway to extend the range of care throughout telehealth. Many of these bills are involved with facilitating telehealth for rural communities, where there is often less access to quality healthcare and a lack of facilities. One of the biggest challenges for these communities is broadband access, which is vital for virtual solutions; however, with the trillion-dollar infrastructure package that passed last year, there is $65 billion earmarked for broadband expansion for people who can't access or afford it.

Furthermore, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia introduced the 2021 CONNECT for Health Act, which aims to broaden the scope of reimbursable telemedicine services. The bill would incorporate addiction care through telehealth and allow certain controlled substances to be prescribed virtually. It would also implement oversight mechanisms to discourage fraud and abuse.

Correspondingly, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Todd Young of Indiana recently introduced bipartisan legislation, known as the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, to expand existing Medicare telehealth reimbursement waivers two years after the public health emergency ends, allowing more time to collect data about effectiveness. The bill would also extend current Drug Enforcement Administration telehealth prescribing waivers if passed. As of this writing, the legislation has been read and given to the Senate Committee on Finance for further review.


Telemedicine is here to stay

What the government is realizing is that telemedicine isn't going anywhere. According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, 40 percent of patients who have used telemedicine say they desire to keep using it in the future. Furthermore, 20 percent of all medical practices in 2021 used devices that allowed for electronic patient monitoring due to demand and technology that made it easier to treat remote patients. Investors see the benefits too, with $29.1 billion spent by venture capitalists in 2021 into the digital healthcare market, an upsurge from $14.9 billion in 2020 and $8.2 billion in 2019.

Hospitals and clinics are also hoping telemedicine is here to stay, and grow, as telemedicine empowers them to add additional revenue streams, see more patients faster, boost profitability, and maximize efficiency. If you would like to learn more about how our telemedicine solutions can work for your medical facility, please get in touch with us today for a demo.


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