Urgency growing as president announces end to COVID-19 public health emergency.
Lawmakers hope permanent telehealth benefits will “fill a much-needed gap for certain members of the American workforce who lack affordable access to quality health care.”
Representatives have reintroduced the Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act that would allow employers to offer standalone telehealth benefits to workers, similar to dental and vision plans, in addition to traditional health insurance.
A number of health care groups and advocates supported the bill in the last Congress and the lawmakers announced they hope to get it to a vote in this one, the 118th Congress.
It appeared Congressional action on telemedicine benefits could become more urgent with President Joe Biden’s announcement to end the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11.
The lawmakers said date will end telehealth benefits that legally were expanded as the nation responded to the spread of COVID-19.
“Even as businesses return to more in-person work, we should not turn our backs on successful telehealth programs that benefited workers in Washington state and across the country,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington. “Everyone – regardless of where they live – should be able to access quality care when and where they need it. The Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act is an important step toward modernizing our health care system to ensure patients can connect with their health care providers from the comfort of their homes on their own schedule.”
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) praised Biden for continuing some telehealth benefits under the federal budget the president signed on Dec. 29, 2022. ATA was among 60 various health care and advocacy groups supporting the telehealth benefits bill in the last Congress.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the immense benefits of telehealth and remote care services,” the letter said. “Telehealth benefits reduce the need to leave home or work and risk infection at a physician's office, provide a solution for individuals with limited mobility or access to transportation, and has the potential to address provider shortages.
“Workers want these benefits, and employers want to continue offering these comprehensive telehealth benefits,” the letter said.
In the announcement of the most recent legislation, Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Michigan, agreed.
“The pandemic revealed how telehealth is a critical tool to ensure that Americans can receive timely, quality, and affordable care from their own home,” Walberg said in the legislators’ announcement. “Expanding telehealth services will help ensure that Americans have improved access to health care, especially in underserved areas.”
The current legislation has bipartisan support with sponsorship by Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minnesota, Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kansas, Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-New Jersey, and Rep. Rick Allen, R-Georgia.
Regarding the last Congress, Walberg credited the work on the telehealth bill by the late Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Indiana, who was killed in a car crash Aug. 3, 2022, in Elkhart County, Indiana. The crash claimed the lives of two staffers and the driver of the other car, according to news reports.
In the last Congress, DelBene was a key supporter for the Improving Seniors’ Timely Access to Care Act, which was approved in the House. Since then, legislators on both sides of the aisle have lined up supporting new rules that would streamline the prior authorization process, as proposed by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.