The Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Actwill be introduced in the House of Representatives this week. This bill is the House companion to the Senate legislation with the same name introduced by Senators Manchin, Ernst, Shaheen and Moran (The text is very similar, but not identical). The bill would:
Allow payment-parity for audio-only health services for clinically appropriate appointments.
Permanently waive the geographic restriction allowing patients to be treated from their homes.
Permanently allow rural health clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers to serve as distance sites for providing telehealth services.
Allows Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to directly bill for telehealth services.
Those of you interested offering organizational endorsements or statements of support for the bill introduction should send them to Adam.Finkel@mail.house.gov.
mHealth Intelligence: Telehealth Groups Pressure CMS to Expand Coverage in 2022 Physician Fee Schedule: (9/20) – The Alliance for Connected Care joined with the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), American Telemedicine Association, American Medical Association, and Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) to ask CMS to amend the proposed 2022 Physician Fee Schedule to permanently extend emergency measures on telehealth access and coverage that were enacted to deal with the pandemic.
The Alliance recommended CMS take several other actions, including which are outlined in our comments here.
This increase in funding would provide a critical boost to the TRCs, which have experienced a high of an 800% increase in demand for telehealth assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic across the nation, yet have been level-funded since 2006.
“We agree that telehealth payment should be addressed for Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), and also believe outpatient behavioral therapy services offered by Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) are a key component of a comprehensive rural behavioral health strategy.”
Senate Finance Committee Behavioral Health Request for Information: (9/22) – Senate Finance Committee Chair Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Crapo (R-ID) launched an effort to develop bipartisan legislation to address barriers to mental health care as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened alarming trends in Americans’ mental health. The RFI has many questions about expanding telehealth to address behavioral health needs. In May, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to examine what can be done to improve mental health and substance use treatment. Last month, Wyden and Crapo launched the Finance Committee’s bipartisan legislative effort to improve behavioral health care in a letter to all members of the committee. This letter, to public and private stakeholders, marks the next step in that process. Responses to the request are due by November 1, 2021.
Resolution to Designate September 19-25 as “Telehealth Awareness Week:” (9/23) – Sens. Schatz (D-HI), Wicker (R-MS), Cardin (D-MD), Thune (R-SD), Warner (D-VA) and Hyde-Smith (R-MS) introduced a resolution
to support the designation of September 19-25 as “Telehealth Awareness Week.” The resolution recognizes that telehealth has helped millions of patients access quality health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that it will continue to be essential beyond the public health emergency.
HHS Office of Inspector General released two companion telehealth reports
The OIG data briefs below provide insight into states’ challenges as reported in January and February 2020, before the expansion of telehealth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As states consider making telehealth expansions permanent, states can use information in these data briefs to help determine which services best support enrollees, and how best to develop effective programs and troubleshoot challenges in implementation.
Texas Health and Human Services: HHSC expands pediatric telehealth services to four rural hospitals (9/24) – The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is awarding over $531,000 in grants to four rural hospitals in the state to expand telehealth services for children. The grants will help the hospitals expand or implement telehealth services that connect their patients with pediatric specialists and subspecialists through video chats and phone calls.
The Office of Governor Larry Hogan: Governor Hogan Announces Steps to Increase Nursing Workforce Statewide (9/23) – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that the state will take additional steps to increase the nurse workforce by providing hospitals with maximum flexibility to mitigate staffing shortages. The Maryland Department of Health issued a notice stating that registered nurses or licensed practical nurses who hold a current active license in another state or jurisdiction can render nursing care in Maryland. Additionally, the Department of Health sent a letter to Maryland hospital and nursing home leaders outlining additional flexibilities, such as encouraging leaders to actively recruit nursing staff that are members of the Nurse Licensure Compact to increase the supply of nurses.
The Star Herald: Lawmakers Could Expand Access to Telemedicine in Mississippi (9/22) – Lawmakers in Mississippi are considering expanding telemedicine in the state. The House and Senate Insurance committees held two days of hearings on the topic to consider which policies to expand and how far the impact of telehealth can extend. Legislators heard testimony from several stakeholders on telehealth delivery methods, among other topics. Telemedicine greatly expanded in the field of psychiatric care in Mississippi throughout the pandemic, with one witness citing that his practice, which sees 150 patients, has 80 percent of visits conducted using telehealth.
Telehealth News and Market Developments
The Hill: Harm reduction and addiction treatment need infrastructure investment: (9/25) – Authors from the Legal Action Center and Partnership to End Addiction issued an op-ed in The Hill urging Congress and the President to invest and integrate behavioral health and addiction treatment into health care. The authors include several main priorities for legislation to successfully meet needs:
Enhance professional education and address the workforce shortage
Promote telehealth options
Expand treatment, employment and housing opportunities for recovering individuals
mHealth Intelligence: New Healthcare Platform for Black Americans Will Include Telehealth, mHealth: (9/24) – Doctor On Demand, Grand Rounds Health and Medtronic are joining large employers Walmart, Target, Best Buy, State Farm, Genentech and Accenture – also all members of the Black Community Innovation Coalition – to create a “dedicated care concierge and healthcare navigation platform” aimed at reducing barriers to care access and boosting health equity among Black Americans. The coalition is building the health platform, which it expects to launch in early 2022, after performing market research studies, employee-led focus groups, population health analyses and product design workshops.
American Medical Association (9/24) AMA weighed in with more than 100 pages of comments on the proposed 2022 Medicare physician payment schedule. The comments highlight strong demand from doctors for extended coverage of telehealth -- including for audio only and the need for coverage of virtual diabetes prevention programs.
Health Affairs: Beyond Broadband: Equity, Access, And the Benefits of Audio-Only Telehealth: (9/20) – Earlier this year, the co-authors and a group of health policy professionals gathered at the Society of Health Policy Young Professionals’ Telehealth Summit to discuss permanent telehealth policies and remarked on the importance of covering audio-only telehealth services beyond the public health emergency. In this new blog, the co-authors lay out the benefits of covering audio-only as a critical interim solution to address gaps in equity and access to care.
Center for Connected Health Policy, “Telehealth & Medicaid: Medicaid and Audio Only.” When the COVID-19 pandemic began and a sharp pivot towards telehealth was made, policymakers quickly realized that not everyone would have access to video technology. Audio-only was quickly allowed as a modality to deliver services. Now, policymakers are deciding whether the temporary audio-only policies should be made permanent. During this webinar, panelists discussed what their Medicaid programs may decide, or have already decided, to do.