U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senator Steve Daines today introduced a bipartisan bill with Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) that would make pandemic-driven expanded access to telehealth services under Medicare permanent.
“For many Montanans, the windshield time it takes to see a doctor can be a significant barrier to getting the health care they need. Thankfully, telehealth is transforming how folks receive care. Particularly in our rural communities, telehealth is no longer just an innovative option for accessing services, it has become a vital lifeline to care,” Daines said. “After the public health emergency ends, we need to ensure Montanans continue to have access to the telehealth services that they’ve come to rely on and are so important for maintaining the health of our communities and seniors.”
“The pandemic has shown us how telehealth services have been a lifeline for patients across Minnesota who may otherwise not be able to access the health care they need,” Smith said. “This legislation will ensure that patients who access physical and occupational therapists, audiologists, and speech language pathologists via telehealth can continue to get those services reimbursed permanently, even after the pandemic has ended.”
“During the pandemic, we have seen telehealth services expand the options of care available to Kansans, especially those living in rural America,” said Moran. “As we continue to unlock the potential of telehealth, I’m pleased to introduce this sensible legislation to expand the list of eligible providers that can seek Medicare reimbursement for providing care to seniors.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the growing use of telehealth services in Nevada and across the country, and this is especially important in our state’s rural and underserved areas where it’s already much harder to access in-person medical care,” said Rosen. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation which would ensure seniors on Medicare can maintain telehealth access to a range of medical providers when the public health emergency ends, and I will continue fighting for better access to quality, affordable care.”
To help reduce risks associated with visiting medical providers during the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) expanded the types of health care providers who receive reimbursement for telehealth services. The “Expanded Telehealth Access Act” makes permanent the reimbursement eligibility for physical therapists, audiologists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists and permits the Secretary of Health and Human services to expand this list.
The Expanded Telehealth Access Act is supported by American Telehealth Association, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLHA), the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the eHealth Initiative and Foundation, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMSS), the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance), and the Alliance for Connected Care.
House companion legislation has been introduced by Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) and David McKinley (WV-01).
For bill text, click HERE.
Health care leaders shared support for the bill:
“The use of telehealth during the pandemic has helped ensure patient access to physical therapist services, minimize potential exposure to the virus, and provided an option for therapy clinics and their patients during quarantine restrictions,” said APTA President Sharon L Dunn, PT, PhD. “And, it’s made it all the more clear just how valuable telehealth is to patients who may need alternative access to therapy. It is critical that Congress make this option for therapy services permanent for Medicare patients, beyond the public health emergency. We applaud Senator Smith for her leadership on this important bipartisan legislation, and are grateful to Senators Daines, Moran, and Rosen for also joining as cosponsors.”
“Telehealth services has allowed our patients who are not able to attend in person access to needed health care. Making telehealth permanent under Medicare will allow continued flexibility and options in the delivery or care for patients and providers,” said Brenda T. Mahlum, Federal Liaison for the Montana Physical Therapy Association of Missoula.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the effectiveness of occupational therapy delivered through telehealth and the importance of removing barriers to care,” observes Wendy C. Hildenbrand, PhD, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA, President of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). “Telehealth has enabled occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants to improve efficiency of care by minimizing therapy delays and missed appointments related to travel and access issues and improve outcomes by allowing visual access to a beneficiary’s home environment. Working with individuals virtually in their authentic home environment, occupational therapy practitioners can identify physical safety risks and contextual barriers to daily life performance which may not have been revealed otherwise. Occupational therapy through telehealth is now an essential part of health care.”
“Since 1983 I have served people with complex neurodisabilities in Montana as an occupational therapist. Prior to the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency, I had no experience using telehealth with my clients. Because it was not a billable service and I could not do it for free, it just did not happen. That changed with the pandemic, and over the last year I have experienced the value of providing certain services via telehealth – while saving clients travel time to see me that sometimes takes 2-3 hours one way. I have done home assessments and initial evaluations via telehealth through the computer on my end and smartphone on the clients end, gaining information that helps make our in-person sessions more productive and efficient. Continued access to coverage for telehealth services for therapists is, in my mind, essential for the future,” said Tamara Kittelson, American Occupational Therapy Association Member, Missoula.
“We applaud Senators Daines, Smith, Moran, and Rosen for introducing the Expanded Telehealth Access Act, critical legislation that will enable seniors better access to necessary health care services provided by audiologists and speech-language pathologists (SLPs),” said A. Lynn Williams, PhD, CCC-SLP, President of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). “The bill will provide Medicare beneficiaries a broader range of options for receiving hearing, balance, speech, language, swallowing, and cognitive care by allowing for permanent coverage of these services via telehealth. This marks another important step toward ASHA’s ultimate goal of providing seniors with high quality care, in a manner that’s most accessible for them, and that audiologists and SLPs are licensed by states to provide through other programs and payers.”
“The American Telemedicine Association applauds Senators Daines, Smith, Moran and Rosen for introducing this bipartisan legislation to expand the list of practitioners eligible for Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services. Healthcare providers at all levels must be able to participate effectively across care teams and leverage telehealth to reach patients where they are,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the ATA. “This legislation will remove unnecessary regulatory barriers and help to ensure access to critical healthcare services for rural and underserved communities and vulnerable patient populations.”
“Physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists are critical providers,” said Jen Covich Bordenick, CEO of the eHealth Initiative (eHI). “Ensuring Americans can receive their valuable services through telehealth is imperative, therefore, eHI is proud to support The Expanded Telehealth Act.”
“HIMSS would like to thank Senators Daines, Smith, Moran, and Rosen for introducing the bipartisan, bicameral Expanding Telehealth Access Act. One critical takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic is that access to vital telehealth services is no longer just an add-on to care delivery and health options, but a critical strategic necessity,” said HIMSS President & CEO Hal Wolf. “This important bill would broaden the list of eligible Medicare providers and ensure that beneficiaries and healthcare providers alike have a greater choice to utilize safe, high-quality care delivered through telehealth.”
“Physical therapists, audiologists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists are critical providers for seniors, and an important part of whole-person care. Earlier this year, the Alliance co-led a lettersigned by more than 430 groups urging Congress to maintain and enhance the list of health care providers eligible to provide telehealth services. The Alliance strongly supports changes to distant site provider list restrictions to allow for all Medicare providers to deliver telehealth services, when clinically appropriate, to beneficiaries through telehealth,” said Krista Drobac, Executive Director of the Alliance for Connected Care
On May 19, 2021, Daines introduced a bipartisan bill, the “Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021,” to remove barriers to telehealth and expand access to care by permanently allowing first-dollar coverage of telehealth services under a HDHP with a HSA.
In December 2020, Senator Daines urged Congressional leaders to make expanded telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent.
Last year, Daines introduced the “Telehealth Expansion Act,” which was passed into law under the “CARES Act,” to allow a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) to cover telehealth services prior to a patient reaching the deductible until December 31, 2021.