Key health industry players urged Senate leadership Tuesday to extend Medicare telehealth flexibilities for a full two years after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
A group of 375 trade groups, health systems and other companies said in a letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that uncertainty around the continuation of telehealth flexibilities has started to affect innovation.
“Virtual care is now a fundamental part of the U.S. healthcare system, and it will improve patient access to high quality care and strengthen continuity of care well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said.
“Unfortunately, without statutory certainty for remote care the hard work of building infrastructure, trust, and relationships with these communities is beginning to stall,” it continued.
Amazon, CVS Health, Google and One Medical signed onto the letter, as did health systems and centers including Trinity Health, MedStar Health and Cleveland Clinic. Membership associations such as the Federation of American Hospitals and the American Medical Association also appear on the list of signatories.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers waived restrictions on when Medicare can reimburse for telehealth visits. Medicare telehealth visits increased 63-fold between 2019 and 2020, according to the Health and Human Services Department.
Congress voted in March to extend the flexibilities for 151 days after the end of the public health emergency, which is expected to last until at least mid-January. But the House of Representatives voted in July to continue the flexibilities through 2024 at a price tag of $2.5 billion.
Telehealth advocates want the Senate to take up the recently passed House bill as well.
“The Senate should act to pass a two-year extension of these important telehealth policies, while continuing to push for a permanent extension, that includes provisions to lift provider and patient location limitations, remove in-person requirements for telemental health, ensure continued access to clinically appropriate controlled substances without in-person requirements, and increase access to telehealth services in the commercial market,” Tuesday’s letter said.