WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding expressed WHA’s strong support of extending key federal telehealth flexibilities under Medicare in a June 25 letter
to Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.
While the Trump administration is expected to extend emergency declarations to allow the expanded use of telehealth, there remains uncertainty as to how long these flexibilities
will last and whether they may go away after emergency declarations expire. Borgerding noted that among the chief provisions in need of permanent extensions are the elimination of geographic and site restrictions.
“This pandemic has been a proof of concept of sorts as it has allowed us to unleash telehealth’s true potential by allowing health care professionals to reach patients in their own home, regardless of whether they are in a rural or urban area,” Borgerding said. “We have numerous stories of how this has at times led to even more successful encounters than prior in-person visits.”
The letter further lists a number of additional priorities from members of WHA’s Telemedicine Work Group, which has spent the last four years exploring how telehealth can improve access, enhance outcomes and reduce costs in health care. Among the additional recommendations: asking Congress and HHS to maintain the expanded list of services covered under Medicare, preserving the expanded list of additional practitioners able to provide those services, and continuing the additional allowable sites of Rural Health Centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers that help expand care to rural and underserved communities.
While acknowledging that audio-only telehealth may not be appropriate in all circumstances, Borgerding cautioned Congress and the Trump administration against arbitrarily restricting audio-only services. He noted reports from WHA’s Telemedicine Work Group members that many areas of the state do not have proper broadband infrastructure to support video services, that some patients may lack the technology or know-how to handle video platforms, and that some patient visits have been more successful via audio as those patients have been more at ease on the phone rather than a video chat. Borgerding also encouraged telehealth to be treated the same as in-person services under Medicare, encouraging the federal government to continue paying the same rate for telehealth as it pays for in-person services, and noting that Wisconsin Medicare providers typically already are reimbursed at only 73% of what it costs them to treat Medicare patients
WHA also encouraged Congress to work with commercial health plans to explore ways to maintain commercial coverage of telehealth, noting that Wisconsin hospitals and health systems are reporting uncertainty about whether commercial plans will cease existing coverage of many telehealth services once the public health emergency ends. Reimbursement under commercial plans has helped make certain telehealth services financially viable that otherwise may not have been if covered only under Medicare and Medicaid.
For more information, contact WHA Director of Federal & State Relations Jon Hoelter