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Congress Advances Bill to Support Telemedicine

Congress Advances Bill to Support Telemedicine
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Let’s help these commonsense reforms get across the finish line. Action Alert!

Recently, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would extend until 2024 changes in the rules to allow more access to telehealth. Expanded access to telehealth offers an opportunity to lower healthcare costs, so it is critical to support this and related bills in Congress.

We covered this issue a few months ago. Before the pandemic, regulators and lawmakers intentionally made it difficult for Americans to take advantage of the lower costs of telehealth, fearing widespread telehealth use would lead to more spending on unnecessary health care. Medicare, which often sets the tone for insurers across the country, banned clinicians from delivering telehealth outside of rural areas and prohibited patients from receiving telehealth within their homes.

This changed during the pandemic when telehealth allowed greater access to physicians when patients were wary of in-person visits. The public health emergency allowed government regulators to relax a number of restrictions on telehealth services. Pre-pandemic, for example, Medicare would only reimburse for telehealth services in rural areas, and the patient needed to go to a medical facility to receive service—they couldn’t stay at home.

Additionally, there were previously restrictions on where the practitioner could be during the time of the telehealth service. If physicians were dispensing telehealth services while at rural health clinics or federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), which predominantly service disadvantaged communities, they could not get reimbursed from Medicare or Medicaid. These restrictions, too, were relaxed during the pandemic. This has improved health care access for historically marginalized populations. Racial and ethnic minorities are 1.5 to 2 times as likely to suffer from a chronic disease as whites; expanded telehealth can help improve the health of these populations.

The problem is that, once the public health emergency ends, these relaxed rules will disappear. The bill approved by the House would extend many of these changes; other bills percolating in Congress would make the changes permanent.

The US spends significantly more money on healthcare than any other industrialized country. There are many reasons for this, but we must embrace policies like expanded telehealth access that give patients cost-saving options.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and tell them to support bills that expand telehealth access! Please send your message immediately.

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