Coalition urges Senate to continue PHE telehealth waivers

Letter asks for two-year extension while Congress works to make changes permanent

Telehealth use has grown significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a broad coalition of telehealth stakeholders wants the U.S. Senate to continue the policies enabling that growth.

In a September 13 letter to Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) the coalition urged the Senate to extend by two years the “flexibilities and waivers” that have enabled broader access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries under the COVID-induced public health emergency (PHE). Former president Donald Trump declared a PHE in March 2020. It has continued with 90-day extensions, with the current one due to expire October 15.

“This access has been transformational,” the letter states. “Patients now expect and often prefer telehealth as a key component of our health care system and providers have been able to reach many patients that previously had access barriers through virtual care.”

However, the short-term nature of the extensions means “providers must weigh the costs of investing in the technological and clinical infrastructure required to maintain telehealth programs…against the uncertainty of when these telehealth policies may end.”

The letter asks the senators to pass the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act, (H.R. 4040) which would continue many of the Medicare telehealth flexibilities through 2024 while working on a permanent extension that would:

  • Lift provider and patient location limitations on telehealth visits
  • Ensure continued access to clinically appropriate controlled substances without in-person visit requirements, and
  • Increase access to telehealth services in the commercial market

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation earlier this year by a vote of 426-12.

The letter is signed by 375 organizations representing a wide array of telemedicine stakeholders, including health care and social service providers, medical societies, technology companies, and insurance companies.

“This letter truly speaks from a strong, unified voice, representing the breadth of the health care industry,” Kyle Zebley, senior vice president, public policy for the American Telemedicine Association, said in an accompanying news release. “While we, 375 strong, seek permanency for telehealth access, our hope is that the Senate will at least match the full two years of extensions envisioned by H.R. 4040.”

He added that the coalition also wants the Senate to extend or make permanent the current provision allowing people with high-deductible health plan Health Savings Accounts to access tele

health coverage without first meeting annual deductibles.

“When included with the policies recently passed with near unanimous support in the House, these additions will ensure Americans, particularly those in underserved and vulnerable communities, maintain access to quality health care,” he said.