Senators request telehealth access expansion be made permanent

Montana’s U.S. senators issued press releases Monday announcing they are joining a bipartisan group of senators calling for the expansion of telehealth services included in response to the COVID-19 pandemic be made permanent.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., both joined in sending a letter to Senate leadership calling for making the expansion permanent.

The releases said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security — CARES — Act contained provisions to expand telehealth across the country to help patients, especially veterans and people living in rural areas, access telehealth services.

Provisions of CONNECT for Health Act co-sponsored by Tester and Daines were included in the CARES Act to expand coverage for telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries, including by allowing federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics to bill as a distant site for telehealth services and allowing a telehealth consultation to replace the face-to-face visit to recertify a patient’s eligibility for hospice care.

“Telehealth has proven to be pivotal for many patients during the current pandemic, ensuring they receive the care they need while reducing the risk of infection and the further spread of COVID-19,” the senators wrote. “We have all heard from our constituents about how effective and convenient it is. Expanded Medicare coverage of telehealth services on a permanent basis—where clinically appropriate and with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections in place—would ensure that telehealth continues to be an option for all Medicare beneficiaries after the pandemic ends.”

Tester and Daines were among 30 senators who signed the letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

“Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability,” the Senators continued later in the letter. “Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic. Doing so would assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends. It would also provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment.”