05.19.21

Daines, Cortez Masto Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Make Pandemic-Driven Expanded Telehealth Access Permanent

Unveils Bill at Senate Finance Committee Hearing

U.S. SENATE –U.S. Senator Steve Daines today introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) that would make pandemic-driven expanded access to telehealth services permanent. Daines originally authored and passed a temporary provision in the “CARES Act” to expand access to virtual care services during the pandemic and unveiled legislation making it permanent today at a Senate Finance Committee hearing focused on health care flexibilities and lessons learned from the pandemic. 

I believe we need to make expanded access to telehealth permanent for Montanans and all Americans, especially in rural areas – not cut access back once we’re post pandemic,” Daines said.

“The pandemic has taken a huge toll on our communities, including our children, and I want to improve access to quality health care for all Nevadans to help us recover,” said Cortez Masto. “This bipartisan legislation will make it easier for families with high deductible health plans to get telehealth appointments, including for mental and behavioral health care. I’ll continue to work in the Senate to make care more accessible to working families.”

Specifically, the “Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021” will permanently allow first-dollar coverage of virtual care under high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), allowing Montanans and all Americans to access telehealth services without the burden of first meeting a deductible. 

For bill text, click HERE.

Watch and download video of Sen. Daines announcing the bill HERE.

During the hearing, Daines also highlighted the importance of audio-only telehealth for Montanans and discussed how expanded access has helped rural communities receive care, including those lacking adequate broadband and internet connectivity. Download and watch the exchange HERE.

Daines then brought up the importance of expanding services offered via telehealth like physical therapy, which many Montanans have come to rely on during the pandemic. Download and watch the exchange HERE.

Telehealth leaders shared support for the bill:

“As we emerge from the public health emergency, permanently extending the HDHP/HSA Telehealth Safe Harbor would allow fully half of American workers and families to continue accessing clinically appropriate telehealth and remote care services for a range of common conditions, without the burden of first meeting a deductible,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). “Congress must act to support American workers and ensure this key policy continues beyond 2021. We applaud Senators Steve Daines and Catherine Cortez Masto for their leadership to permanently extend pre-deductible coverage for telehealth and remote care services under high-deductible health plans.”

“The pandemic proved once again the value telehealth can bring to patients. This bill will open a pathway for longer-term access and affordability so care can be delivered when and where patients need it and at prices they can afford,” said Troy Brennan, M.D., MPH, EVP and Chief Medical Officer of CVS Health. “Taking a modern approach to care is a step in the right direction as we look at a future that focuses on quality and convenience.”

“Access to virtual preventative care and remote care solutions should not solely be considered a pandemic policy. As our healthcare system emerges from the public health emergency, permanently extending the high-deductible health plan (HDHP) telehealth safe harbor will allow the estimated 54 percent of American workers with these plans to continue accessing a range of clinically appropriate virtual care services without the burden of first meeting a deductible. We can meaningfully expand access to care through the passage of the Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021 by permanently allowing first-dollar coverage of virtual care under HDHP.” – Claudia Duck Tucker, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs & Public Policy, Teladoc Health, Inc.

"The CARES Act provision allowing 1st-dollar coverage of telehealth services during the pandemic has been a huge success, enabling employers to improve health care access and affordability for tens of millions of workers," said Annette Guarisco Fildes, President and CEO of The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC). "ERIC strongly supports making those gains permanent - Congress should immediately pass the Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021 before patients lose access at the end of this year." 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress enabled employers to offer pre-deductible coverage for telehealth services, expanding access to care and reducing out-of-pocket costs for those individuals,” said Alliance for Connected Care Executive Director Krista Drobac. “This bill would ensure a permanent extension of this provision and ensure beneficiaries continue to have ready access to telehealth services while remaining eligible to make and receive contributions to an HSA beyond the public health emergency.”

“Noom is a leading digital health platform focused on behavior change science. Broad access to virtual care is urgently important to helping people everywhere take control of their health, and Noom applauds Senators Daines and Cortez Masto for their leadership to enable Americans with high-deductible plans to get access to these services.” – Michal Rosenn, General Counsel, Noom 

“Telehealth has been a game changer across Montana by enhancing access to care. Senator Daines’ legislation will ensure that high deductible plans will not create a barrier to needed care delivered through telehealth.” – Rich Rasmussen, President/CEO of the Montana Hospital Association

“The Montana Telehealth Alliance (a membership-based group of organizations and individuals, spanning the state who are providing or interested in providing telehealth within our state) supports the continued efforts to provide enhanced access and quality healthcare to all Montanans. The need for timely, efficacious care paired with patient expectations in a digital era underlines the outstanding opportunity to reduce historic, pre-pandemic telehealth restrictions. MTA supports the Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021.” – The Montana Telehealth Alliance

"We thank Senators Daines and Cortez Masto for introducing the Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021 (S. 1704). We believe this legislation will remove outdated barriers to telehealth and virtual care, ensuring employees do not face an increase of their out-of-pocket expenses for accessing essential care." - Robbie Cape, CEO 98point6

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many vulnerabilities in the US healthcare system. We believe this bill will expand access to essential healthcare services, such as mental health and primary care services, and will help patients across the nation recover in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Mara McDermott, the Partnership to Advance Virtual Care. 

Background:

In December, 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 an HDHP with a health savings account (HSA) to cover telehealth services prior to a patient reaching the deductible until December 31, 2021.