Senators seek to permanently expand telehealth eligibility

Senators seek to permanently expand telehealth eligibility
© Bonnie Cash

A bipartisan group of senators aim to permanently expand telehealth reimbursement eligibility for additional providers like physical therapists in a bill proposed on Thursday.

Sens. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesHillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two Senate Judiciary Committee to debate key antitrust bill Overnight Defense & National Security — No punishments in botched Kabul drone strike MORE (R-Mont.), Tina SmithTina Flint SmithOvernight Energy & Environment — High court will hear case on water rule Biden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (D-Minn.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Eight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs MORE (R-Kan.) and Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenOvernight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill Eight senators ask Biden to reverse course on Trump-era solar tariffs MORE (D-Nev.) teamed up to introduce the legislation that intends to extend boosted telehealth access beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Amid the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) broadened its list of providers that receive reimbursement for telehealth services to reduce the risks of spreading and contracting COVID-19 among patients at in-person providers offices.

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The Expanded Telehealth Access Act would officially extend this reimbursement for telehealth services to physical therapists, audiologists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists. Under the bill, the secretary of Health and Human Services can also make more providers eligible.

The bill aligns with companion House legislation from Reps. Mikie SherrillRebecca (Mikie) Michelle SherrillSALT change likely to be cut from bill, say Senate Democrats Meeks leading bipartisan trip to Ukraine amid Russia tensions Democrats look back on Jan. 6 with emotion MORE (D-N.J.) and David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyFour states to feature primaries with two incumbents in 2022 West Virginia lawmaker slams GOP colleague over support for infrastructure law McBath to run in neighboring district after GOP redrew lines MORE (R-W.Va.) introduced earlier this year.

Daines, who serves as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care, said his constituents sometimes face long commutes to get to health care providers, presenting a “significant barrier.”

“Particularly in our rural communities, telehealth is no longer just an innovative option for accessing services, it has become a vital lifeline to care,” Daines said in a statement.

More patients turned to telehealth care, particularly in the early months of the pandemic, amid stay-at-home orders and worries over the deadly virus. But lawmakers said these accommodations made health care available to more residents.

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“This is especially important in our state's rural and underserved areas where it's already much harder to access in-person medical care,” Rosen said.

The American Telehealth Association, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association are among the bill’s supporters.

“It is critical that Congress make this option for therapy services permanent for Medicare patients, beyond the public health emergency,” APTA President Sharon Dunn said in a statement.