The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee held a hearing on April 28 to discuss the benefits that telehealth has provided during the COVID-19 pandemic and how to maintain these advancements in care in the future.
During the hearing, “Charting the Path Forward for Telehealth,” subcommittee members and witnesses primarily focused their comments on how telehealth has expanded access to care and provided several recommendations, including extending some of the current telehealth waivers that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued to allow flexibility to hospitals and other providers delivering care during the COVID-19 pandemic [refer to Washington Highlights, May 1, 2020] and increasing access to broadband connectivity.
In his opening statement, subcommittee Chair Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) noted, “Telehealth has allowed essential health care workers to provide primary care, specialty care, patient monitoring, case management — all while reducing the spread of COVID-19.” He added that telehealth can help reduce health inequities by removing barriers like transportation and child care, but he also pointed out that increased access to broadband — especially for economically disadvantaged patients — is necessary to make telehealth successful in the future.
Doggett also mentioned that he plans to introduce a bill to temporarily extend the existing telehealth waivers before they expire to allow the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services to “evaluate the impact on health care delivery, Medicare spending and utilization as well as to assess the quality of care delivered in order to provide evidence-based recommendations to Congress regarding likely permanent changes to Medicare.”
Subcommittee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) added his support for telehealth and noted the bipartisan support for the issue. He stated, "Ways and Means Republicans believe telehealth is a powerful tool that can improve access to care, empower patient choice, and ultimately make our health care system more effective and efficient. When we think about the future of the health care system—one that is personalized, portable, and pays for value—there is no doubt that telehealth must be a key component.” He continued, “For years, Congress has incrementally integrated telehealth into Medicare through a series of strategic investments. And now, the pandemic has allowed us to see and experience the positive benefits telehealth unleashed through the Medicare program and what they can deliver for patients. It would be a missed opportunity to turn back now.”
Prior to the hearing, the AAMC submitted a statement for the record that urged Congress to take additional steps “to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries and other patients can continue to have access to telehealth services beyond the pandemic, including:
- Permanently removing patient location and rural site requirements to allow patients to access to telehealth visits in any location.
- Reimbursing providers the same amount for telehealth services as in-person visits.
- Permanently allowing Medicare payment for audio-only services.
- Allowing patients to access telehealth services across state lines as appropriate.
- Improving access to broadband technology.”