Lawmakers want to 'delink' telehealth coverage from the public health emergency

Two House members said that congress is trying to expand Medicare's virtual flexibilities beyond the public health emergency, NextGov reported Dec. 14. 

"Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic for us to realize the larger benefits of telehealth and really introduce telehealth into traditional Medicare," said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member.

Lawmakers are trying to transition beyond the public health emergency and create a more permanent direction for telehealth, which was used by 38 percent of Americans in the past 12 months, according to CDC data. 

"We want to delink the telehealth flexibilities from the COVID-19 public health emergency. We want to make sure that patients remain in control of their doctor visit decisions and that it's the patient that is deciding whether or not to utilize telehealth services or if they prefer to see a provider in person," Ms. Rodgers said. "We're also having broader conversations about the guardrails on the program to make sure that we are cutting down on the potential waste, fraud and abuse, which we will see in any program, but we need to create a permanent structure around telehealth. Right now, we're working more on a short term bridge policy, to give us some time to consider what those guardrails would be and where the maximum efficiencies will be."

As of now, Medicare telehealth flexibilities will end 151 days after the PHE expires, which has been extended past January 11, 2023.  

House members have voted on a bill to expand telemedicine coverage under Medicare for two years, but the Senate has not taken up this bill. 

Mike Thompson, D-Calif., co-chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and member of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus, also introduced a bill to expand telehealth permanently, but it has been lingering. 

"It is a bipartisan issue and it's an important issue," Mr. Thompson told NextGov. "Congress is a strange place and there are any number of bills right now that you and I … would agree should be passed, but for a number of very complicated reasons, they're lingering, this being one. Now, there was some rumor that the Senate was inclined to do it, but only wanted to do it for one year. And we're waiting to see what the final package comes down to."

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