Legislation to extend telehealth waivers until the end of 2024 passed by the U.S. House of Representatives late last week, offering the hope that this pandemic-related flexibility could be made more permanent and outlive the public health emergency (PHE), which is set to expire in October.
The news is notable because it means that these pandemic-relief telehealth flexibilities could be untied from the public health emergency (PHE). Currently, the PHE is set to expire in October, but could receive another extension.
On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee moved the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act forward in an almost unanimous vote.
“The bill gives Congress, Medicare, and stakeholders time to produce a permanent policy with any necessary program integrity measures and benefit qualifications on a complex set of issues,” said NAHC President William A. Dombi. “For home health and hospice, it preserves, at least temporarily, the very valuable option of telehealth visits to meet the face-to-face encounter requirements under the respective benefits.”
Dombi has previously said that both “in home health and in hospice, [agencies] delivered telehealth services quite robustly during the pandemic for free. And so now the next expectation is [they’ll] always do it for free.”
Understandably, providers want to be paid for the telehealth services they provide and Dombi believes this may now be possible. “The extension also provides an opportunity to get additional changes in telehealth policy in place such as payment to home health agencies,” added Dombi. “It essentially guarantees there will be a future legislative vehicle to do so, whereas Congress does not have the time to consider those changes now.”
Before the PHE created circumstances leading to the current flexibility, patients were required to have an in-person doctor’s appointment before they could receive home health services.
The legislation would maintain the increase in the geographic locations where Medicare beneficiaries can receive telehealth services.
“We saw telehealth services widely and successfully adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, now we must ensure those services are here to stay,” Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) said in a statement. “For seniors, traveling to a doctor’s office can be a prohibitive barrier to receiving the care they need, and we cannot allow people who have come to rely on telehealth throughout the pandemic to have that resource taken from them. This legislation brings us one step closer to permanently expanding telehealth services and allowing Americans to continue to access critical health care from the comfort of their home.”