A bipartisan duo of lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill to make Medicare reimbursement permanent for some telemedicine services.
Telemedicine has experienced substantial growth in response to the coronavirus outbreak, helped by a host of regulatory flexibilities from Medicare. Healthcare providers have voiced concern that those flexibilities expire with the public health emergency, and have said they want to see actions like expanded Medicare reimbursement continue after the outbreak subsides.
HHS officials have said the agency is reviewing possible steps to extend regulatory changes pushed through during the pandemic, but have stressed some statutory barriers would require intervention by Congress.
The new House bill, called the Helping Ensure Access to Local TeleHealth—or HEALTH—Act of 2020, would tackle some of the barriers.
The HEALTH Act would codify Medicare’s expanded telemedicine reimbursement for federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics, including providing payment for telemedicine services furnished by such facilities and removing originating site requirements for Medicare beneficiaries.
“The HEALTH Act will cut red tape and provide community health centers and rural health clinics the ability to offer these vital services to their patients on a more permanent basis,” Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-Pa.) said in a statement. “I have been amazed at how telehealth services make life easier for rural and underserved communities—particularly older Americans.”
Thompson introduced the bill with Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).
Several industry groups have voiced support for the bill, including the National Association of Community Health Centers and the North Carolina Community Health Center Association.
Telemedicine has been a central piece of the U.S.’s COVID-19 response, allowing patients to continue receiving care without leaving their homes.
Support for delivering care remotely has continued to grow, with mounting interest in technologies beyond video visits. This week, representatives also introduced legislation to establish a $50 million grant program within HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration to pilot remote patient monitoring services in rural areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.