The AAMC joined 430 organizations in a July 26 letter urging congressional leaders to permanently extend temporary telehealth flexibilities beyond the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).
The letter thanked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for their leadership in expanding access to telehealth services at the onset of the pandemic through the flexibilities provided under the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-123) [refer to Washington Highlights, March 6, 2020] and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (P.L. 116-136) [refer to Washington Highlights, March 27, 2020].
The letter further highlighted many of the benefits of expanding access to telehealth, including that it can help address existing health disparities. However, it noted, “Many of the telehealth flexibilities are temporary and limited to the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Without action from Congress, Medicare beneficiaries will abruptly lose access to nearly all recently expanded coverage of telehealth when the COVID-19 PHE ends. This would have a chilling effect on access to care across the entire U.S. health care system, including on patients that have established relationships with providers virtually, with potentially dire consequences for their health.”
To address these concerns, the organizations urged Congress to:
- Remove geographic and originating site restrictions to allow beneficiaries to access telehealth services from any location, including in their homes.
- Maintain and enhance the Health and Human Services Secretary’s authority to determine appropriate providers, services, and modalities for telehealth, including reimbursement for audio-only services when clinically appropriate.
- Remove the in-person requirement for telemental health services for most Medicare beneficiaries.
- Ensure that federally qualified health centers, critical access hospitals, and rural health clinics can continue to provide telehealth services after the end of the PHE.
The AAMC addressed many of these issues during its July 20 congressional briefing on the future of telehealth [refer to Washington Highlights, July 23].