Where lawmakers stand on permanent Medicare telehealth coverage: 6 things to know 

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Telehealth provisions made last year during the beginning of the pandemic are set to expire once the public health emergency ends, but several lawmakers are working to introduce new regulations that would continue its support, according to a June 14 Washington Post report. 

Before COVID-19, Medicare typically only reimbursed telehealth visits for rural patients who had to go to a healthcare facility to make the telehealth call, according to the report. However, the pandemic accelerated the need to keep people from making unnecessary trips to physicians' offices, so HHS waived many of the restrictions on Medicare reimbursement for telehealth. 

Here are six things to know about lawmakers' current efforts regarding permanent telehealth coverage, according to the report. 

1. A group of more than 50 bipartisan senators introduced the Connect for Health Act, which would permanently remove geographic restrictions on telehealth. This would let patients participate in virtual visits from their homes and give HHS the permanent authority to waive location restrictions. 

2. Rep. Mike Thompson, D.-Calif., and other leaders in the House are pushing for telehealth legislation similar to the Connected Health Act, according to the report. 

3. Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D.-Texas, want to lift regulatory restrictions on telehealth but only temporarily. Mr. Doggett told the Post that his bill to extend telehealth waivers through 2022 would give experts and regulators more time to compile data on telehealth and establish a proposal with more evidence. 

4. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent agency that advises Congress on Medicare issues, has recommended a limited telehealth extension.

5. Congress would need to act quickly to keep the regulatory telehealth changes enacted during the pandemic; the provisions that supported the telehealth expansion last only through the public health emergency, which the Biden administration has said it expects to last through the end of this year. 

6.Regulators and lawmakers will need to define what counts as a telehealth visit. Medicare traditionally has required video visits for telehealth coverage, but during the pandemic telehealth visits over the phone have been covered. 

 

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