Bipartisan bill would make telehealth flexibilities permanent

The measure would end some Medicare restrictions and extend emergency waivers

By Leila Merrill

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced last week by members of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee’s Health Subcommittee would end restrictions on where Medicare patients can use telehealth services and would temporarily extend other telehealth options.

The Telehealth Extension Act, sponsored by committee chairman Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) would remove a rule that patients have to live in rural areas and get telehealth services at participating facilities in order to be covered by Medicare, Modern Healthcare reported. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is co-sponsoring the bill.

"Expanded access to telehealth, permitted by emergency waivers, has transformed healthcare delivery," said bill sponsor Rep. Lloyd Doggett. (Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke/Associated Press)

The location rules have been temporarily suspended by the government because of the pandemic, which has allowed Medicare patients to get help at home, but the benefit would end on Jan. 16 without congressional action, KXAN reported.

Some EMS agencies have been implementing telehealth options.

"Expanded access to telehealth, permitted by emergency waivers, has transformed healthcare delivery — helping patients connect easily and safely with their physicians in a timely manner," Doggett said in a news release. "As the pandemic enters an unpredictable new stage and emergency waivers may expire, patients and providers should not face a cliff of uncertainty."

The temporary extension would allow more time for elected officials to consider telehealth policy, Healthcare IT News reported. It also lets clinicians such as “speech language pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists to provide telehealth services; enable critical access hospitals to furnish virtual outpatient behavioral therapy services; and allow payment for appropriate audio-only services.”

Additionally, the bill contains anti-fraud provisions to prevent financial losses to Medicare due to improper telehealth billing.

Congressional staffers and lobbyists have said they expect Congress to act before the year ends.

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