A bipartisan, bicameral group of 45 lawmakers led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is calling on congressional leadership to extend Medicare coverage of telehealth services in February.
Telehealth provisions from the Schatz-authored Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act were included in previous COVID-19 relief legislation, but are due to expire unless congressional leaders extend those measures or make them permanent.
“We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
“While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February,” the lawmakers said.
The current pandemic telehealth authorities are temporary and directly tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed every three months.
Extending the telehealth services, the lawmakers, will “provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term.” Additionally, patients will be reassured their care will not abruptly come to an end.
The lawmakers also said extending the telehealth services will allow more time to collect and analyze data on the impacts of telehealth. In doing so, the data can help inform Congress’s next steps on permanent telehealth legislation.
“Telehealth has become an essential part of the health care system,” the lawmakers wrote. “In February, Congress should extend the authorities that have expanded coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain access to telehealth and provide necessary certainty for Medicare telehealth coverage.”