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Lawmakers want expanded telehealth coverage to last beyond the pandemic

A bipartisan group of 49 lawmakers wants Congress to pass legislation before the end of the year.
Igor Bonifacic, @igorbonifacic
December 4, 2020
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Solskin via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of 49 lawmakers led by Senator Brian Schatz says the current state of expanded access and coverage to telehealth services should be the norm going forward. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as their minority counterparts, the group says any end of year legislation Congress undertakes should include provisions that extend the current level of telehealth access and coverage beyond the end of the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, they want to see Congress ensure that there aren’t any regional restrictions to access and that people with Medicare can continue using those services from their homes. The provisions will expire unless Congress enacts more permanent legislation. 

Some of the notable lawmakers who signed in support of the letter include Senators David Cicilline, Elizabeth Warren, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski. “Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic,” the letter states. 

Telehealth usage saw a massive spike during the pandemic, but as Senator Schatz and company alludes to, the current provisions leave a lot of uncertainty for healthcare providers. “Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs — including the purchase of equipment such as tablets and webcams, telehealth platforms, additional staff, provider training, and changes to electronic health records, billing and patient engagement processes,” the letter states. “Without more certainty about the future of Medicare coverage, many organizations are not investing in all of these areas to optimize the use and availability of telehealth.” That’s a concern healthcare providers shared with Engadget when we detailed the increase in telehealth usage over the pandemic.

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