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– A new bill before Congress aims to expand the ranks of healthcare providers using telehealth during the Coronavirus pandemic to include, among others, physical and occupational therapists and social workers.

The Emergency COVID-19 Telehealth Response Act, submitted last week by US Reps. Cindy Axne (D-IA), Troy Balderson (R-OH) and French Hill (R-AR), would expand Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for physical and occupational therapists, clinical social workers, speech pathologists and audiologists.

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Expanding coverage for telehealth services has been a hot topic lately, as providers look to connected health platforms to connect with patients in their homes during the pandemic. Many smaller practices have closed their doors due to quarantine rules, prompting specialty care providers to either shut down or go online.

Earlier this month, several members of Congress sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking that PTs, OTs, speech language pathologists and audiologists be reimbursed through Medicare for telehealth services.

They pointed to the CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security) Act, passed last month, which authorized those services for telehealth reimbursement under Medicare but did not classify providers as eligible distant site providers.

“Precluding therapy professionals from Medicare telehealth reimbursement would lead to a significant lack of access for beneficiaries relying on rehabilitative, habilitative, and audiologic care that is critical to living independently, participating in activities of daily living and maintaining overall positive health and well-being,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Medicare beneficiaries are some of the most vulnerable for contracting the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19),” they added. “Current stay at home orders and social distancing protocols are leaving many beneficiaries with underlying conditions without access to the services they need. We cannot continue to put older and health compromised Medicare beneficiaries at risk by forcing them to choose between forgoing regular care or risking exposure to the virus.”

With their bill, Axne and her colleagues are looking to “codify the authority for these services to be accessed through telehealth to better meet patients’ needs.”

This legislation will make sure that patients with ALS and other illnesses have the same access to therapies in their home that we’ve granted for other medical services,” Axne said in a press release. “I know how helpful speech therapy and audiology services can be for our children and seniors – and how hard the setback of even just a few missed classes or sessions can be. Additionally, our social workers serve an important role in protecting our most vulnerable and we can better protect our community by authorizing telework for clinical social workers. With expanded telehealth capabilities, we can ensure Iowans aren’t forced to choose between taking the precautions of staying home and getting the care they need.”

The bill has the support of several organizations, including the American Hospital Association, American Physical Therapy Association, American Occupational Therapist Association, American Academy of Audiology, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the Alliance for Physical Therapy Quality and Innovation, the National Council on Aging, the National Association of Social Workers and the ALS Foundation.

Source: New Bill Pushes For Telehealth Coverage for Therapists, Social Workers