Legislation making some telehealth waivers permanent should be on the way
The future of telehealth has been a primary concern among providers, payers and patients over the last few months.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that the "normal" healthcare landscape won't return for some time, if ever. Federal policymakers enacted dozens of changes throughout the crisis to ease access to telehealth.
Now, the question becomes: How many of those changes, particularly regarding temporary waivers issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will become permanent?
Tom Leary, vice president of government relations at HIMSS (Healthcare IT News' parent company) predicted in a Thursday press gathering hosted by HIMSS that the House would soon introduce legislation addressing at least two of the areas:
- The originating site rule allowing physicians to be reimbursed for telehealth services provided to a patient at their home
- The expansion of the types of providers that can be reimbursed for telehealth services.
Indeed, shortly after the call on on Thursday, a bipartisan group of House representatives introduced the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act. Among other provisions, the act would eliminate most geographic and originating site restrictions on the use of telehealth in Medicare.
"The pandemic is a very trying time for the healthcare system," Leary said. "Telehealth as an additional resource has been very helpful to make sure families have care they need in a safe environment."
Leary, along with Domenic Segalla, principal of healthcare advisory services at Withum, and Withum senior manager Bill Kinney, spoke about the importance of considering the financial impacts – both positive and negative – and payment rates of telehealth expansion.
"How will an expansion, or making permanent some of these temporary waivers – how will that impact [the] bottom line for Medicare costs, as well as the funding for the program?" asked Leary.
"Currently there's parity between in-person and telehealth visits," Leary pointed out. "We anticipate a lot of discussion around that."
Segalla described two sides of the discussion: providers and hospitals wondering if reimbursement rates will remain steady, and payers wondering if telehealth will improve healthcare outcomes and reduce overall spending.
"The one thing that is clear is: They do not believe they can go back," said Segalla, of providers and patients.
Leary also predicted Congress diving into issues around broadband access, particularly for underserved communities. Though interstate licensure is a hot-button issue for providers who care for patients in other states, he said it's more likely that the federal government will work closely with state medical associations on a path forward there.
The issue of program integrity – auditing how well telehealth does in terms of fraud protection – will also likely be considered in legislative discussions, Leary said.
Cybersecurity for telehealth has become a growing concern during the pandemic, particularly as health systems rapidly roll out systems.
"We want to make sure patients receive access to care, but make sure program integrity stays high," said Leary. "The last thing we want to do is have an opportunity for bad actors to spoil what has been a very positive experience in a very trying time."
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.