Washington, DC–– Today, Representative John Curtis (R-UT) released the following statement after his bipartisan, bicameral legislation to study the impacts of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic was introduced in the senate by Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Angus King (I-VT), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). The bill requires the US Department of Health and Human Services to assess key health care metrics, including utilization rates and hospital readmission rates, for patients who received their health care through expanded telehealth programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Telehealth is undoubtedly the future of health care, especially for the rural communities that I am privileged to represent,” said Curtis. “Ultimately, Congress’ objective should be to make many – if not at all – of these regulatory changes permanent. Our bill is a significant step in that direction because it will ensure we are keeping patients’ health and reducing the costs of care through value-based medicine as our top priorities as we consider expanding telehealth services throughout the country.”

“With coronavirus forcing many healthcare providers to rely on telehealth services, this pandemic has transformed the way patients receive care. To assess the impact of telehealth services provided during the public health crisis, our legislation would require HHS to collect, analyze, and report on key health care data, including health outcomes and cost savings. While I support making many of the coronavirus telehealth flexibilities permanent, Congress still needs to evaluate how they’re currently impacting our healthcare system and their potential for long-term success,” said Senator Young.

“Telehealth plays such an important role in offering quality, accessible care in our country – especially in more rural states like West Virginia. It is crucial that we fully understand the impact that telehealth has on our communities and keep the highest level of care accessible to patients both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. As a longtime advocate for telehealth services, I view this as an important step towards making many of the recent regulatory telehealth changes permanent.  I look forward to the outcome of this study and the part that telehealth will play in the future of our health care in West Virginia and America,” said Senator Capito.

Statement of Support

Nathan Baugh, Director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Rural Health Clinics: “As rural health clinics adopt telehealth services to care for their patients during the pandemic, it is important for us to understand both the magnitude and effectiveness of telehealth in rural, underserved settings as we deliberate further changes to telehealth policy.” 

Ray Timothy, UETN Executive Director, Utah Telehealth and Education Network: “The Utah Education and Telehealth Network is in support of this bill, which requires the secretary of HHS to collect and analyze data on the impact of telehealth services, virtual check-ins, digital health, and remote patient monitoring technologies on health care delivery permitted by current waivers and modifications of requirements during COVID-19. Many of the current waivers have had a profound impact on the way health care is delivered, in rural and underserved areas in particular, and this bill will help to determine what changes to keep in place after the end of the PHE.”

Neil Leibowitz,  Chief Medical Officer, Talkspace: “For many, the stress and anxiety inflicted by COVID was relieved thanks to mental health counseling provided via text, video chat, and audio messaging. By seeking data on the impact and effectiveness of Telebehavioral Health, Congressmen Welch (D-VT) and Curtis (R-UT) will spur on better analysis, fresh insights, and quite possibly new treatments. We hope the bill leads to laws and rules that make it easier for Americans to connect with professional therapists.  Real world evidence will make clear that telemedicine is an invaluable way for mental health care to be delivered and consumed.”

Background

Regulatory action taken by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak in the US gave millions of Americans access to vital health care services with the touch of a button. The 1135 Blanket Waivers issued by CMS in March 2020 permit health care providers to treat patients virtually – either by phone (audio-only) or through teleconferencing – and across state lines, which is a practice that regulators previously prohibited. 

These increased flexibilities resulted in a 50% increase in telehealth visits among public payers in March alone and more than an 8,000% increase in telehealth visits to date as a result of similar actions taken by commercial insurers. The bipartisan legislation introduced today will help policymakers evaluate the effectiveness of these changes, specifically if they kept patients healthier and happier, providers more satisfied, and reduced the overall costs of care. 

Text of the bill available [HERE].

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