washington d.c. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) co-sponsored the Telehealth Modernization Act, bipartisan legislation that would update coverage restrictions that have long kept the nation’s estimated 61 million Medicare beneficiaries from accessing vital telehealth services.
“Telehealth services have been a lifeline for patients and providers during the pandemic, ensuring that individuals can continue to receive quality healthcare from the safety and convenience of their own homes,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “This bipartisan bill would expand telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries, ensuring that seniors in Maine and across the country retain access to remote home health services during the COVID-19 emergency and future public health emergencies.”
While these Medicare access gaps predated the pandemic, the spread of COVID-19 underscored the urgency of updating telehealth coverage rules, prompting Congress to authorize temporary emergency waivers designed to ensure safe access to care for the elderly and other vulnerable populations. As the pandemic raged, Medicare beneficiaries turned to telehealth services to minimize the risk of exposure and receive medically necessary care in safe and accessible environments. In April 2020, more than two-fifths (43.5%) of Medicare FFS primary care visits were provided via telehealth, and from mid-March to early July of that year, more than 10.1 million beneficiaries accessed telehealth services.
Without further action from Congress, however, these emergency flexibilities will expire when the public health emergency ends, creating chaos for tens of millions of Medicare beneficiaries, many of whom have come to rely on telehealth for essential care. The elderly of our country deserve better. the Telehealth Modernization Act would help meet their needs with necessary updates to coverage policies.
the Telehealth Modernization Act makes two permanent changes:
- Ensures patients can access telehealth anywhere by permanently removing Medicare’s so-called “geographic site and origin” restrictions, which required both the patient to live in a rural area and use telehealth in a doctor’s office or certain other clinical sites.
- Protects access to telehealth for patients in rural areas.
The bill also gives the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services new authority to:
- Help patients continue to access telehealth from physiotherapists, speech-language pathologists and other healthcare providers.
- Help provide Medicare beneficiaries with many more telehealth services.
- Help Medicare palliative care and home dialysis patients use telehealth to continue receiving needed care.
The bill was introduced by Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and was also co-sponsored by Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Raphael Warnock ( D-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), John Boozman (R-AR) and Todd Young (R -IN ).
The list of supporting organizations can be viewed here.