430 telehealth and remote care companies, along with major health providers and associations, have organized to petition Congress to make permanent the changes instituted by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). These changes will expire this year unless the pandemic emergency extends into 2022.
Like the Senate Telemental Health Care Access Act of 2021 that would extend telemental health Medicare coverage to patients without a prior in-person visit [TTA 16 June], the extension of CARES Act coverage would require Congressional action to amend the Social Security Act: for telemental health, Title XVIII; for telehealth, Section 1834(m). While the Telemental bill is actually in the Senate, the permanent expansion of telehealth and remote care would require its own and far more complicated bill and corresponding regulations.
Based on the letter (PDF link), these changes would include:
- Remove Obsolete Restrictions on the Location of the Patient and Provider. This is the rural geographic restriction.
- Maintain and Enhance HHS Authority to Determine Appropriate Providers, Services, and
Modalities for Telehealth. This would expand the list of practitioners, services, and also expand telehealth in some cases to audio-only consults.
- Ensure Federally Qualified Health Centers, Critical Access Hospitals, and Rural Health Clinics
Can Furnish Telehealth Services After the PHE. These are the ‘safety net’ providers for underserved and rural areas.
- Remove Restrictions on Medicare Beneficiary Access to Mental and Behavioral Health Services
Offered Through Telehealth. This covers much the same ground as the Telemental bill.
What is unclear, of course, it being Washington, is how quickly Congress will bestir itself to enact these changes to existing law before the end of 2021 and the expiration of the CARES Act window with, presumably, the end of the PHE. American Telemedicine Association (ATA) release, HealthcareITNews, FierceHealthcare