Washington, DC–– Today, Representatives John Curtis (R-UT), Peter Welch (D-VT), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to study the impacts of telehealth during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE). The legislation 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. The Senate companion bill will be introduced this week by Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV).
“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.”
“This unprecedented pandemic has proven that telehealth not only works, but that it’s essential,” said Welch. “I have no doubt that this study will confirm what rural and underserved patients across the country already know: these emergency telehealth provisions should be continued. This is a commonsense step to make sure our policies keep pace with our technology.”
Statements 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.”
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].