The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on Nov. 14 titled, "Ensuring Medicare Beneficiary Access: A Path to Telehealth Permanency." Subcommittee members discussed strategies to ensure Medicare beneficiaries' continued access to telehealth services after key flexibilities expire Dec. 31, 2024. Witnesses included several telehealth experts, including Eric Wallace, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine; Chad Ellimoottil, MD, associate professor of urology at the University of Michigan Medical School; and Ateev Mehrotra, MD, MPH, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.
The hearing examined various aspects of telehealth access, including geographic site requirements, payment parity for telehealth services, audio-only telehealth services, and remote prescribing of controlled substances. In a key exchange, subcommittee Ranking Member Steve Daines (R-Mont.) inquired how telehealth can be used to address workforce shortages. Witnesses described how a hybrid approach to care delivery, including in-person and virtual services, can improve the efficiency of the workforce and expand access to care for rural and underserved communities. Later in the hearing, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) asked the witnesses about the Drug Enforcement Administration’s recent proposed rule regarding remote prescribing via telemedicine, which would reinstate an in-person visit requirement for certain controlled substances [refer to Washington Highlights, Apr. 7]. Ellimoottil responded that the DEA should create a special registration progress for the prescription of controlled substances via telemedicine and reduce administrative barriers to this care.