Movement Begins on Telehealth

By: Allen Pinn, Policy Coordinator

May 29, 2024

Recent Telehealth Policy Actions
On May 8, 2024, Congress took some first steps toward extending the pandemic telehealth flexibilities with the advancement of The Preserving Telehealth, Hospital, and Ambulance Access Act. The legislation includes the following provisions:

  • Preserve telehealth accessibility to Medicare recipients through 2026;
  • Preserve Hospital-at-Home through 2029;
  • Extend Medicare programs, which sustain rural and low-volume hospitals through September 30, 2025;
  • Extend Medicare add-on payments for rural, super-rural, and urban areas to preserve access to crucial emergency ambulance services;
  • Authorize continued use of audio-only platforms;
  • Mandate guidance to make telehealth accessible for individuals with limited English proficiency; and
  • Completion of a reporter by the Government Accountability Office on the capabilities and/or limitations of wearable medical devices.

Telehealth legislation also needs to move through the Energy and Commerce Committee, which advanced  its own  legislation, H.R. 7623 The Telehealth Modernization Act of 2024.  This bill differs from H.R. 8261 by permanently eliminating geographic restrictions for federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics. The legislation would also extend audio-only telehealth coverage available under Medicare.

NHC’s Take
While there is a strong push to make the pandemic-era flexibilities permanent, the National Health Council (NHC) expects a shorter reauthorization and is urging Congress to act quickly to allow providers to plan for their telehealth usage and invest in needed technology.

Creating more access to health care is one of the most important issues to patient advocates and stakeholders within the health care ecosystem. Notably, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients utilized telehealth as a method to access health care due to numerous shutdowns and safety concerns. In 2020, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act were enacted, which gave Medicare patients greater access to telehealth without geographic or location limitations. As a result of these telehealth extensions during the public health emergency, many patients, especially those living with chronic conditions and disabilities, were given an option of care that could give them more access and comfort. The most recently established telehealth flexibilities enacted under the 2023 Consolidate Appropriations Act are due to expire at the end of the year unless Congress acts.

For patients with transportation limitations, rare diseases, or living in rural and underserved communities, telehealth should be an option if preferred or clinically necessary. Telehealth has been shown to reduce barriers to access and the NHC believes expansion of telehealth services can improve equitable coverage. While telehealth can enhance equity, it is also important services consider patients’ accessibility to telemedicine. Incorporating protocols such as audio-only communications and technological/language accommodations should all be considered to reduce barriers to access. The NHC recommends current Medicare telehealth flexibilities are made permanent and that regulatory and payment barriers to these services are also mitigated. While the NHC supports expansion of telehealth flexibilities, telehealth should be one of multiple option for patients and providers, when preferred and clinically appropriate, and should not be seen as a replacement for in-person care.

As Congress enters summer and the presidential campaign approaches, the NHC will continue to monitor all movements on telehealth legislation. To read more of the NHC’s stance on telehealth flexibilities click here.