June 10, 2021 - Washington, DC – On Wednesday, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced the bipartisan Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act to make current telehealth flexibilities permanent. This legislation would ensure rural and underserved community healthcare providers are able to continue offering telehealth services after the current public health emergency ends. These services include the ability to offer audio-only telehealth appointments because many rural Americans don’t have reliable, affordable broadband access.
(Left) Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)
“In rural areas across the United States – especially in West Virginia – many Americans don’t have access to reliable, affordable broadband, which is essential for video telehealth services. Instead, many rural Americans utilize audio-only telehealth appointments, which are now equally reimbursed after I fought to ensure that our healthcare professionals are reimbursed fairly for their hard work,” said Senator Manchin. “When we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic, we immediately recognized the importance of making these telehealth flexibilities permanent. Our bill ensures that rural telehealth providers can give rural Americans the quality care they deserve by eliminating restrictions on the use of telehealth options and ensuring doctors can be reimbursed for services they provide to patients from the comfort of their homes. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join this commonsense legislation to permanently expand telehealth access for all Americans, no matter where they live in our great nation.”
“Even before the pandemic, access to telehealth was critical to helping Iowans in rural areas get the care they need. That’s why I prioritized working with Democrats and Republicans to expand access to these services during this difficult year. Now that we’ve seen its success, there’s no reason we shouldn’t make these changes permanent to continue supporting both our rural patients and hospitals,” said Senator Ernst.
“The expansion of telehealth services during the pandemic, including especially audio-only telehealth, has allowed Granite Staters to access the care they need without traveling long distances and risking their health, while also helping health care providers easily connect with patients and earn additional income needed to keep their doors open – a win-win,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m pleased to introduce this common-sense legislation with Senator Manchin to permanently expand the telehealth services and ensure that Medicare beneficiaries in areas of New Hampshire that lack broadband can continue to access audio-only forms of telehealth services. It should not have taken a pandemic for Medicare to finally unlock the potential of telehealth services — and now we need to make sure that these vital telehealth services continue to be available to patients long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated the effective and efficient access to care telehealth provides to patients, especially those in rural communities,” said Senator Moran. “Even after the pandemic ends, our health care system should bolster telehealth services as a reliable option to serve patients and help expand health care options and availability for rural America.”
The Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act would:
- Allow payment-parity for audio-only health services for clinically appropriate appointments. During COVID-19, recognizing not everyone has access to the technology in their home, Congress made allowances for audio-only telephone services to be used to allow doctors to reach patients wherever they are.
- Permanently waive the geographic restriction allowing patients to be treated from their homes. Pre-COVID-19, the home was allowed as an eligible originating site in Medicare and some Medicaid programs, but only for very specific services, and only for the patient, not the provider.
- Permanently allow rural health clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers to serve as distance sites for providing telehealth services.
- Lift the restrictions on “store and forward” technologies for telehealth. Currently this is only allowed in Hawaii and Alaska.
- Allows Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to directly bill for telehealth services.
Background information on the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act can be found here.
This bill is supported by the Alliance for Connected Care; American Academy of Family Physicians; American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology; America’s Essential Hospitals; Americans for Prosperity; American Telemedicine Association; AMDA The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine; diaTribe Foundation; eHealth Initiative; Global Liver Institute; Hawai'i Parkinson Association; International Foundation for Autoimmune & Autoinflammatory Arthritis (AiArthritis); LeadingAge; Medical Group Management Association (MGMA); National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs; National Rural Health Association; Patient & Provider Advocates for Telehealth; Progressive Policy Institute; Special Needs Plan Alliance.
Source: Senator Joe Manchin