WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) joined 45 of their colleagues in a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging congressional leaders to include an extension for expanded telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries. This telehealth service expansion began during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing patients nationwide to access telehealth services from a wider range of eligible health care providers.
“We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
In June 2020, Klobuchar and Smith joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in calling for a permanent extension of expanded telehealth access started during the coronavirus pandemic. Klobuchar and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) also introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation last February to enhance telehealth support for seniors and increase access to technology for “virtual visits” during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, in June, Klobuchar and Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), encouraging HHS to ensure Minnesotans can access telehealth services beyond the pandemic. Senator Smith has introduced and supported a host of bills to advance telehealth during and beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency, including the Improving Tele-Mental Health Act, the Health Care at Home Act, and the Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act.
In addition to Klobuchar and Smith, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT) Thom Tillis (R-NC), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Rob Portman (R-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), John Boozman (R-AR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), David Schweikert (R-AZ), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), James Langevin (D-RI), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Don Bacon (R-NE), and Michael Guest (R-MS).
Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:
Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:
Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that patients continue to receive the health care they need while keeping health care providers and patients safe. Congress recognized the importance of telehealth and included provisions in COVID-19 legislation to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic. We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February.
An extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients. Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs and resources from health care providers. However, the pandemic telehealth authorities are temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments. Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth. An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term. It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly.
In addition, since the use of telehealth in Medicare was very low before the pandemic, an extension would provide additional time to collect and analyze data on the impacts of telehealth. This data could help inform Congress’s next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections. In the meantime, it is crucial that an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period.
Telehealth has become an essential part of the health care system. The permanent telehealth reforms included in the CONNECT for Health Act, which has bipartisan support from over 170 members of Congress, as well as other telehealth bills, are imperative to increase access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. In February, Congress should extend the authorities that have expanded coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain access to telehealth and provide necessary certainty for Medicare telehealth coverage.
We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.