A bipartisan group of legislators has reintroduced the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies for Health Act – first introduced in 2016 – to expand opportunities and coverage for telehealth through Medicare. This is the second time the bill has been reintroduced.
WHY IT MATTERS
Last introduced in 2021, CONNECT 2023 would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities and make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, according to a recent announcement from the American Telemedicine Association.
The bill would amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to:
- Permanently remove all geographic restrictions on telehealth services and expand originating sites to include the home and other sites.
- Permanently allow health centers and rural health clinics to provide telehealth services.
- Allow more eligible healthcare professionals to use telehealth services.
- Remove unnecessary in-person visit requirements for telemental health services.
- Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies.
- Require more published data to learn more about how telehealth is being used, how it impacts quality of care, and how it can be improved to support patients and healthcare providers.
These new and revised provisions will help more people access telehealth services, said Kyle Zebley, ATA’s senior vice president and executive director of ATA Action.
“Telehealth has proven itself as a valuable tool in delivering essential care, and one that has helped address health disparities for populations with diminished access to care,” said Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), according to a statement from Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), one of the Senate bill’s sponsors.
“Mississippians and Americans face many obstacles accessing healthcare, whether it’s living in rural areas, old age or mobility issues,” added Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).
“This legislation would be key to providing them with the quality, affordable care they need and deserve. It’s time to get this done,” she said.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and a group of his bipartisan peers also introduced the companion legislation in the House of Representatives last week.
“In an increasingly modern era, telehealth puts care within reach for Medicare beneficiaries, from those living in rural communities to urban centers,” he said in a statement.
The bills make it easier for more people to see their doctors no matter where they live, Schatz added.
“While telehealth use has skyrocketed these last few years, our laws have not kept up,” he said.
THE LARGER TREND
In 2021, a bipartisan group of 50 U.S. senators reintroduced CONNECT to address what they called inequitable access to care in the current statute.
Then, the final legislative package of 2022 provided a two-year extension for rural Medicare programs, telehealth flexibilities, and the Acute Hospital Care at Home program that pushed out the so-called “telehealth cliff” and opened a new window to pursue making the changes permanent this year.
While the Omnibus provisions are set to expire in 2025, they validated telehealth’s case for cost control, said Tom Leary, senior vice president and head of government relations at HIMSS, the parent company of Healthcare IT News.
“How do you really know what the impact on the Medicare population and the Medicare Trust Fund will be?” he said in January during a conversation about what’s ahead for health IT policy this year.
“We now have three years of data on the impact to the Medicare Trust Fund,” he explained.