Letter signed by multiple stakeholders urges action before the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, and Americans fall off "telehealth cliff," losing access to these services.
The coronavirus pandemic has ignited the need for permanent telehealth reform. While barriers to access virtual care were temporarily lifted by the government and private payers, the government waivers are set to expire when the public health emergency ends.
Yesterday, 340 organizations signed a letter urging Congressional leaders to make permanent changes that will enable Americans to continue to access telehealth services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Signatories include associations devoted to telehealth, connected health, virtual care, and information technology; health systems; and industry vendors.
The letter cites a significant uptick in the use of telehealth services:
- "Providers across the country have utilized these flexibilities to scale delivery and provide older Americans, many for the first time, access to high quality virtual care, resulting in 11.3 million beneficiaries accessing telehealth services in mid-April alone," according to the letter.
- Medicare Advantage have experienced a "similar expansion" with 91% of seniors reporting a favorable telehealth experience and 78% likely to use telehealth again.
- Telehealth adoption among private health plans "has soared – resulting in a 4,300% year-over-year increase in claims for March 2020.
"Taken as a whole," the letter says, "these temporary policy changes have allowed 46% of Americans to replace a cancelled healthcare visit with a telehealth service during the pandemic."
The letter requests that Congress focuses on the following priorities:
- Remove obsolete restrictions on the location of the patient
- Maintain and enhance the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) authority to determine appropriate providers and services for telehealth
- Ensure Federally Qualified Health Centers and rural health clinics can furnish telehealth services after the public health emergency ends
- Permanently authorize HHS to issue temporary waivers during public health emergencies
In a statement to the media about the letter, Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), said, “As we all work to understand the impact of the waivers put in place in response to the pandemic and assess what should be made permanent, we encourage Congressional leaders to focus on existing statutory barriers that must be immediately addressed to ensure the administration can appropriately transition and modernize telehealth under Medicare and importantly, keep us all from falling off the ‘telehealth cliff.’ ”
ATA was among the 340 organizations signing the letter along with AdvaMed (the Advanced Medical Technology Association), Alliance for Connected Care, eHealth Initiative, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), Health Innovation Alliance and Personal Connected Health Alliance. According to a new release issued by ATA, signatories include national and regional organizations "representing a full range of health care stakeholders and all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico."
Earlier this month the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions held a hearing on the topic of telehealth, with those testifying urging similar changes.
Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.