By Terri Jo Neff |
With telehealth services growing in popularity and necessity during the pandemic, U.S. Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) has signed a letter with several members of Congress calling on House and Senate leadership to include an extension of Medicare pandemic telehealth authorities in upcoming government funding legislation.
The letter acknowledges that telehealth—or telemedicine as it is also called—has become an essential part of the health care system, especially in rural communities. Congress recognized the importance of such services when it passed COVID-19 legislation to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries.
Telehealth services allows a physician or a specialist to provide healthcare without an in-person office visit. It also allows remote monitoring of a patient’s vital signs or other information, and provides for secure messaging or email with medical personnel.
But expanded access and funding for Medicare beneficiaries to utilize the services is temporary as it is tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments.
According to the Jan. 28 letter, extending the current coverage of Medicare telehealth services would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients. It would also give Congress time to enact permanent telehealth legislation to keep up with the burgeoning industry.
“Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs and resources from health care providers,” the letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy states. “Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth.”
Permanent legislative reforms to telehealth services are included in various current bills under consideration, including the CONNECT for Health Act which has bipartisan support from over 170 members of Congress. Such long-term solutions are imperative to increase access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes, the letter states.
“An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term. It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly,” it states.
Nearly four dozen lawmakers signed the letter supporting a telehealth pandemic extension. The signers run the gamut of political ideology, including Schweikert and fellow Representatives Bill Johnson (R-OH), Cheri Bustos (D-IL.), and Don Bacon (R-NE).
Signers from the U.S. Senate include Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Both of Arizona’s Senators also signed.