Key takeaway: During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has emerged as a safer alternative to certain in-person services that could result in spreading the virus, especially in rural areas.
Congress must make these advances permanent. Ways and Means Republicans, led by Health Subcommittee Leader Devin Nunes, have circulated a discussion draft of legislation to do just that.
- Today, President Trump is signing a new Executive Order to further expand access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in rural communities.
- The order requires HHS to announce a new payment model, testing innovations that empower rural providers to transform healthcare on a much broader scale.
- This order also requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to the President on how to increase access to health care in rural areas by reducing regulatory and disease burdens and improve maternal and mental health in rural areas.
- To improve connectivity, the Federal government is directed to launch a joint initiative in 30 days to improve healthcare communication infrastructure and expand rural services.
- Finally, the order also requires the HHS Secretary to look to review and extend, as appropriate, the current waivers put in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency, which have brought critical flexibilities and telehealth access to millions of Americans.
With its focus on rural communities, today’s administrative action directly builds on the areas for improvement identified by the bipartisan Ways and Means Committee Rural and Urban Underserved Taskforce— addressing direct social determinants of health; enacting payment system reforms; improving technology and infrastructure; and strengthening our workforce. The Members of the Task Force will discuss their work to improve health-care delivery through telehealth this Thursday during a virtual round table.
As part of the federal response to the COVID-19 PHE, both Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have expanded the use of telemedicine for the duration of the PHE, including:
- Waiving the Medicare requirement that telehealth be conducted only in rural areas and certain types of health care facilities and providers
- Expanding the types of services Medicare providers can bill for telehealth
- Enabling certain types of Medicare services traditionally done face-to-face to be conducted via telehealth, such as home dialysis and hospice services
- Expanding access through audio-only telehealth
- Allowing Medicare Advantage plans for offer more telehealth services Appropriating $200 million to the Federal Communications Commission in the to create the COVID-19 Telehealth Program in order to support telehealth services across the country and specifically promote telehealth for low-income consumers.
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