Cheney/Dingell Introduced Bipartisan Legislation On Telehealth Services

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Today, as first reported in POLITICO’s Pulse Newsletter, Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell introduced the “Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021,” legislation that will codify critical telehealth policies implemented during the pandemic while also making it easier for seniors – especially those in rural areas – to access emerging health care technologies. The full text of the legislation can be read here.

Upon introduction of the bill, Rep. Cheney released the following statement:  

“This bill will allow Americans to utilize telehealth services even after the emergency declaration has ended. COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges, including the facilitation of a safe environment for our seniors to receive high quality health care. Fortunately, Congress was able to remove many of the barriers that prevented seniors from utilizing telehealth services from the comfort and safety of their homes. As a result, telehealth use among seniors has continued to rise and this legislation would continue this successful trend well after the pandemic is over by permanently cutting burdensome red tape, while allowing Medicare to adapt to the ever-changing innovation in medical technology.”  -Rep. Liz Cheney (WY-AL)

Rep. Dingell also issued a statement following the bill’s introduction:

“For seniors, driving to the doctor or even getting out of the house can be difficult in order to access the healthcare they need. Telemedicine offers an easy alternative for people to talk to their doctors and get the care they need from the comfort of their own homes. This legislation would remove barriers to critical healthcare by making telehealth accessible to everyone.” -Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI-12)  

This legislation has the support from a number of medical associations and health care affiliated groups. In a statement, American Medical Association President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D. endorsed the legislation: 

“The success of telehealth technology adoption during the COVID-19 public health emergency has made it abundantly clear that this technology should be available to all Medicare patients regardless of where they live or how they access telehealth services. Telehealth has allowed patients to maintain access to their physicians, and early evidence has shown reasonable utilization and costs.  This bipartisan bill would build on the coverage gains made during COVID-19 by removing outdated statutory obstacles to care. The AMA strongly endorses the “Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021” that brings Medicare telehealth coverage into the 21st century.” -Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., President of the American Medical Association

The Connected Health Initiative, which is the leading multistakeholder spanning the connected health ecosystem to encourage the responsible use of digital health innovations throughout the continuum of care, also sent a letter to Reps. Cheney and Dingell thanking them for sponsoring this legislation and expressing support for it. That letter can be read here.  

In addition, The Wyoming Hospital Association endorsed the legislation as well, issuing the following statement in supporting of the bill:

“Wyoming Hospital Association is very grateful that Congresswoman Cheney is bringing this legislation forward.  Access to care by utilizing RHCs and FQHCs to deliver telehealth has been one of the good things to come through COVID.  In a rural state these healthcare delivery locations are incredibly important in allowing patients to receive care and having adequate and allowable reimbursement for these services makes incredible sense.  We have learned a great deal during the pandemic and access to care while keeping people in their communities is extremely important.” -Wyoming Hospital Association

Finally, Jan Cartwright, Executive Director of The Wyoming Primary Care Association, expressed support for this legislation in a statement as well:

“The Wyoming Primary Care Association supports this bill as an important step in the delivery of healthcare through telehealth. Wyoming federally qualified health centers located in some of the most rural parts of the U. S. moved quickly to provide care to their patients through telehealth during the pandemic. We thank Congresswoman Cheney for her bill to make the telehealth waivers permanent.” -Jan Cartwright, Executive Director of the Wyoming Primary Care Association

BACKGROUND:

The Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 will permanently remove the originating site and geographical limitations that were temporarily waived in the CARES Act.  Before this waiver went into effect, Medicare beneficiaries who wanted to utilize telehealth services could only do so at a designated “originating site” and only in the event of a physician shortage.  This bill will also allow any physician who can currently bill for Medicare to be eligible for this waiver and will cover specified forms of telemedicine including “audio-only”.

The bill would also make permanent the telehealth coverage at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and Rural Health Clinics (RHC).  This will give rural providers the ability to serve patients remotely while being properly compensated for their work.

Finally, the bill removes restrictions that limit health care providers’ ability to provide access to smart devices and innovative digital technology to their patients.  Allowing Medicare providers to remotely monitor and track their patient’s health will improve quality of life while reducing costly trips to the emergency room.