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Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), Chair of the House Suburban Caucus, released the following statement after she introduced the new telehealth legislation titled the Telehealth Act, a package that includes nine separate telehealth bills.
The pandemic has mandated we build a more accountable and responsive health care system to address the significant challenges facing our nation during this crisis. Missourians need to speak to their doctors on their terms, and this legislation makes health care more accessible by permanently expanding telehealth services and providing options and more affordable coverage for families across the country.
The Telehealth Act (HR 7992), has the goal of expanding telehealth by combining nine other telehealth bills into one piece of telehealth legislation. Those nine bills include the following:
- H.R. 5473, EASE Behavioral Health Services Act (Rep. Bilirakis) This legislation would expand access to telehealth services for individuals suffering from behavioral and mental health issues. By providing an exception from Medicare’s geographic restrictions to telehealth services, this bill in the Telehealth Act would allow for initial patient evaluations, follow-up medical management, and other behavioral health services to be administered via telehealth. Additionally, this legislation requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to issue guidance for federal reimbursement for telehealth treatment of substance abuse disorders under Medicaid.
- S. 4103, TREATS Act (Sen. Portman) The Telehealth Response for E-prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act would support the expansion of telehealth services for substance use disorder treatment. The bill would build upon the Trump Administration’s action to waive regulatory restrictions for accessing care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the temporary waivers provide a necessary reprieve for patients so that they may continue their treatments and counseling virtually, they are time-limited and will ultimately expire at the conclusion of the Public Health Emergency. The TREATS Act would extend these telehealth flexibilities by making permanent key waivers, including the ability to prescribe Medication-Assisted Therapies (MAT) and other necessary drugs without needing a prior in-person visit and the ability to bill Medicare for audio-only telehealth services to address broadband connectivity issues. By taking these steps, the TREATS Act will increase overall access to MAT and support telehealth needs in rural communities where broadband may be needed.
- H.R. 4900, Telehealth Across States Lines Act (Rep. Roe) This legislation would establish a uniform standard of nationwide best practices for the provision of telehealth across state lines. This standard will be crafted in consultation with a myriad of stakeholders, including consumers, primary care providers, specialists, surgeons, emergency medicine providers, technology experts, and federal agencies. Additionally, this bill in the Telehealth Act incentivizes the expansion of telehealth services with the creation of a new payment system for the adoption of telehealth services and a five-year grant program aimed at expanding access for rural communities.
- H.R. 7338, Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act (Rep. Cheney) This legislation would allow the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to waive the originating site (the location of the beneficiary at the time the service is furnished) and geographical limitations beyond the public health emergency period that was specified in the CARES Act.
- S. 4039, Telemedicine Everywhere Lifting Everyone’s Healthcare Experience and Long Term Health (TELEHEALTH) HSA Act (Sen. Loeffler) This bill would permanently extend a provision of the CARES Act that temporarily allows health savings account eligible high-deductible health plans to offer first-dollar coverage of telehealth services.
- H.R. 3228, VA Mission Telehealth Clarification Act (Rep. Carter) This bill in the Telehealth Act would provide a technical fix to the VA Mission Act in order to allow trainees satisfying health professional training program requirements to use telehealth systems while supervised by an appropriately credentialed VA staff member.
- H.R. 7233, KEEP Telehealth Options Act (Rep. Balderson) This bill would require studies by HHS and GAO so that Congress can get a comprehensive analysis of the current, temporary telehealth expansion programs under the public health emergency with the goal of moving toward permanent telehealth options for American patients and providers.
- S. 3988, Enhancing Preparedness Through Telehealth Act (Sen. Cassidy) This bill in the Telehealth Act would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to inventory telehealth programs across the country to learn how telehealth can be used more effectively in future health emergencies. The report would be performed every five years.
- H.R. 7187, HEALTH Act (Rep. Glenn Thompson) This legislation would make Medicare payments permanent for any telehealth services furnished by federally qualified health centers and rural health centers
House – 08/07/2020 Referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and in addition to the Committees on Ways and Means, the Judiciary, and Veterans’ Affairs, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned. (All Actions)
- Read the details here
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This is great! What are some action steps we can take to help get this legislature passed?
I’m now paying for office space I can’t use (due to COVID), and would like to stop. BUT, if insurance companies discontinue telehealth coverage, I’ll be in need of an office again.
I’m writing to ask for your forecast. I KNOW that Medicare has begun the process of making telehealth availability permanent for the current range of codes, but much of my practice relies on two other insurers as well, and if I let the office go and any of them reverts, it’ll hurt economically. NO, I don’t expect you to know, or be responsible for outcomes, but I’m interested in your ‘more-informed-than-average’ best guess of how it’s likely to go. It would be nice if I could continue with telehealth and keep the rent money.
You are in the good company of professionals and other business owners worldwide who are starting to question the wisdom of writing those rent checks even after COVID. We at TBHI had several people contact us to consult about their practices and how to best plan for the future in these uncertain times, and more directly, how to transition to telehealth full-time.
While we certainly don’t have a crystal ball, the fact is that the pandemic has forced businesses to digitize their services to stay afloat. Now it will be difficult to go back. For example, my friend recently had to deal with the Department of Motor vehicles to renew her Dad’s driver’s license. Whereas in the past she would have been forced to go stand in line for a few hours, now the DMV has arranged a new system whereby an in-person visit is no longer needed. I seriously doubt that after the pandemic, the stand-in-line-for-hours-with-your-Dad-in-a-wheelchair requirement will be reinstated. These rules are antiquated, given the capacity for technology to bring services to us, rather than the other way around.
Repeated announcements by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have stated quite clearly that “there is no going back.” See our recent blog posts where many of those statements were cited and explained in the context of behavioral health by going to our blog’s index page and searching for “CMS” in the upper right corner of the page. Several recent articles will appear.
The fact is, many clinicians are already looking at the insurers they serve and asking serious questions about which ones will be paying for telehealth in the future. Given that the best predictor of the future is the past, you may want to start looking at which ones in your state have been paying. Depending on your state, there may be a surprising number of them that paid for telehealth prior to COVID. Most of the ones who were paying for telehealth didn’t make that fact be known, so you may be pleasantly surprised. Register for them now if you want to soon start getting such new referrals.
If you learn that the companies you currently serve have not been paying, there’s no shortcut to contacting them regularly to identify their timeline for telehealth reimbursement long term. How you handle your current clients or patients who will not be able to continue telehealth sessions after COVID is the same struggle that many clinicians have faced with they pivot their practices away from some payers. That is not just telehealth-related so I won’t comment here. Other options also exist, though.
* Find other insurers who will pay for telehealth
* Find reputable online employers who will send you viable referrals for client or patients
* Get licensed in other states where companies do pay
* Stand by for some new services that we at TBHI are about to release for just this purpose.