Bipartisan support to continue telehealth flexibilities continues to build in the U.S. Congress, with the Senate Finance Committee holding a May 19 hearing
to explore health care flexibilities granted under COVID.
The hearing comes less than a month after bipartisan members of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee also expressed support for continuing telehealth flexibilities, as covered in a recent edition
of The Valued Voice
Dr. Narayana Murali, executive vice president of care delivery and chief strategy officer of the Marshfield Clinic Health System, noted how telehealth visits skyrocketed from 3% of overall patient visits in March 2020 to 42% of visits in April 2020 as hospitals were instructed to temporarily halt non-emergency in-person care. Since returning to more normal patient volume levels, telehealth has made up anywhere from 11% to 20% of visits for MCHS, clearly showing that patients and health care providers believe it is here to stay.
Despite its success, Dr. Murali noted that inadequate rural broadband infrastructure has limited patients' ability to obtain reliable video connections, showing the need for Medicare to continue covering audio-only telehealth visits while broadband access expands into communities currently lacking such service.
Dr. Murali also noted that MCHS was an early adopter of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’s) Acute Care at Home program, allowing the system to provide a hospital-level of care directly in patients’ homes during the COVID pandemic. This program has been another opportunity for telehealth to shine, in conjunction with in-home face-to-face care, and is something Dr. Murali and other panelists urged CMS to continue beyond the expiration of the public health emergency. WHA recently helped enact legislation
at the state level clarifying that these hospital-at-home programs would not be subject to additional regulations by the Medicaid program.
In addition to Dr. Murali, other panelists and committee members expressed widespread support for extending telehealth flexibilities on a permanent basis, including removing geographic site restrictions for telehealth. WHA has long made this a top advocacy priority and continues to press the importance of this service with federal lawmakers. Please contact WHA Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter