$8bn COVID-19 supplemental funding House bill waives telehealth restrictions for Medicare beneficiaries (US)

The House of Representatives, which controls appropriations, has passed H.R. 6074, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. The bill provides $8.3 billion in new funding that includes a significant telehealth waiver for Medicare. From the bill summary on Congress.gov:

Within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the bill provides FY2020 supplemental appropriations for

the Food and Drug Administration,
the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention,
the National Institutes of Health, and
the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund.

In addition, the bill provides supplemental appropriations for

the Small Business Administration,
the Department of State, and
the U.S. Agency for International Development

The supplemental appropriations are designated as emergency spending, which is exempt from discretionary spending limits.

The programs funded by the bill address issues such as

developing, manufacturing, and procuring vaccines and other medical supplies;
grants for state, local, and tribal public health agencies and organizations;
loans for affected small businesses;
evacuations and emergency preparedness activities at U.S. embassies and other State Department facilities; and
humanitarian assistance and support for health systems in the affected countries.

The bill also allows HHS to temporarily waive certain Medicare restrictions and requirements regarding telehealth services during the coronavirus public health emergency.

Sponsored by retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), it was introduced and passed in the House 415-2.

In the text of the bill, the telehealth-pertinent portion permitting CMS to waive restrictions on telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries during this emergency is Division B, Sections 101-102. This cost is estimated at $500 million by The Hill.

The bill went to the Senate yesterday (4 Mar) for final approval. There is already an amendment proposed by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to offset the $8 bn of the bill with unobligated, non-health related foreign aid funds (FreedomWorks). Whether this is the ‘offset’ for telehealth that is mentioned in The Hill as under negotiation is not revealed.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) approved of the waiver. Ann Mond Johnson, the ATA’s CEO, urged “CMS to implement its waiver authority as soon as possible to ensure health care providers understand any requirements and help speed the deployment of virtual services” and pledged “The ATA and its members will continue to work with federal and state authorities, including HHS and the CDC, to address the COVID-19 outbreak and ensure resources are appropriately deployed for those individuals in need of care and help keep health care workers safe.” ATA press release, Hat tip to Gina Cella for the ATA heads-up

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