– Senator Lamar Alexander has added another telehealth bill to the rapidly growing list of efforts to expand connected health coverage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tennessee Republican and chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this week introduced the Modernization Act (S. 4375), which aims to make permanent several coverage proposals being considered on Capitol Hill and included in other bills recently introduced.
According to Alexander, his bill would:
- Remove geographic and originating site restrictions from Medicare coverage services;
- Ensure that telehealth services at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics (RHCs) are covered by Medicare;
- Give the Health and Human Services Secretary the authority to permanently expand the types of services covered by Medicare (the list now stands at 135) and the types of care providers who able to deliver those services; and
- Enable Medicare to cover more services used for hospice and home dialysis care.
Those changes were included in temporary federal policy changes that have been enacted in the past few months to help care providers expand telehealth and mHealth use to deal with the COVID-19 emergency. Most of those changes are set to expire when the public health emergency ends – a date recently pushed to mid-October by HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
They’re also included in lobbying efforts by more than 340 providers, telehealth vendors and other telehealth advocates and a task force organized by the American Telemedicine Association, Alliance for Connected Care and NCQA to keep telehealth momentum going after the pandemic.
In a press release, Alexander said his bill would part of a three-pronged approach to improving the healthcare landscape. He also called for Congress to pass the CONNECT for Health Act, a bill introduced (for a third time) in October 2019 that aims to expand Medicare coverage for telehealth, and the COVID-19 HEALS Act, the latest coronavirus relief package introduced this week – and one which is expected to face a lot of debate and changes before both sides can comes to an agreement.
He said his bill comes out of a June 17 hearing in which the Senate health committee asked healthcare experts about the 31 temporary policy changes made to expand telehealth coverage.
“The best result for the American people would be for Congress to approve all three steps – the changes in the HEALS Act, the CONNECT for Health Act, and my legislation – in the NEXT COVID-19 package so we don’t miss the opportunity to support and encourage one of the most important changes in the delivery of medical services ever,” he argued.
He faces a crowded docket of similar efforts, including three telehealth bills introduced last week alone. The list includes: