The HEALTH Act would codify Medicare reimbursement for community health centers and rural health clinics for telehealth services.
Just days after CMS Administrator Seema Verma said she "can't imagine going back" to a world without expanded telehealth access, two representatives introduced a bill that would make Medicare reimbursement permanent for certain telehealth services.
The bipartisan Helping Ensure Access to Local TeleHealth, or HEALTH Act, would codify Medicare reimbursement for community health centers and rural health clinics for telehealth services.
It would provide "for permanent cost-related payments for telehealth services furnished by federally qualified health centers [FQHC] and rural health clinics under the Medicare program."
It would also permanently remove "originating site facility and location requirements for distant site telehealth services" furnished by those centers and clinics.
U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, and Glenn Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, introduced the bill.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted expanded reimbursement and loosened rules for telehealth.
Those changes were initially intended to be temporary during the emergency period, but in the months since they were initiated, telehealth usage has exploded. Now it's the "new normal," Chris Shank, CEO and president of the North Carolina Community Health Center Association, said in a statement.
“Through the temporary telehealth changes thus far, community health center patients have been able to access primary care and behavioral health services while physically distancing to limit spread of coronavirus. However, patients and providers alike will benefit from permanent telehealth access even once the virus is under control," Shank said.
He added that telehealth removes to healthcare access like transportation, which disproportionately affect lower-income and rural patients.
"The ability to use telehealth during the pandemic has clearly demonstrated how it can play a role in improving health equity by increasing access to care for the vulnerable populations FQHCs serve and boosting clinical outcomes," Cheri Rinehart, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers, said in a statement.
Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.