With the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services saw a sharp increase in demand. The American Telehealth Association is collaborating with Congress and a number of federal agencies to determine the future of rules and funding for these services.
The ATA’s Telehealth Awareness Week policy update webinar examined how federal and state telehealth policies may change as Congress considers whether or not to end the public health emergency now that President Joe Biden has pronounced the COVID-19 pandemic over. With the pandemic, government priorities in telehealth have changed, and Congress has decided whether or not to permanently relax some prohibitions.
According to political analysts who spoke at the online event, because the PHE must be evaluated every 90 days, Congress will need to review the extension by mid-October. Megan Herber, a director at Faegre Drinker who counsels ATA and ATA Action on all matters of federal policy, said, as people know, President Biden has stated in recent times that the pandemic is over, so it’s conceivable that the technical public medical crisis might lapse sometime in the very near future.
Quinn Shean, strategic adviser at Tusk Ventures and the state policy advisor for ATA and ATA Action, said that federal regulations governing telehealth payments and provider practises are stringent.
However, Herber continued, Medicare policy trickles down, even if doctors do not serve Medicare clients. For instance, before the pandemic, patients needed to be in a hospital or clinical environment in a remote place in order to be eligible for telemedicine coverage.
So long as the COVID-19 public medical crisis is in effect, that is the current situation, according to Herber. However, all of these exemptions go away eventually unless Congress does anything in around five months.
According to speaker Alexis Gilroy, co-leader of Jones Day’s healthcare and life sciences practise, approaches to policy might vary depending on the circumstances. Based on the precise lane it sits in, how does one approach it?
Because states take different approaches to telehealth coverage criteria for public and private health coverage, reimbursement for services supplied via telehealth, and qualification to provide reimbursable services, there are several state objectives in terms of telehealth policy at the state level. The ways that states govern simultaneous and delayed telehealth and remote monitoring vary as well. They differ in terms of what qualifies as a legitimate patient-provider connection, the types of providers that can conduct telehealth, and whether or not practitioners from other states are permitted to treat residents of the state distantly without a licence, according to Shean.
There are 50 distinct state requirements there, she added, calling it a jumble.
The ATA has concentrated on creating a uniform regulatory framework so that telehealth can be used across states and to its full potential.
The ATA is dedicated to modality-neutral regulations, she said, rather than imposing rules on the telehealth delivery methods that practitioners must utilise. The ATA is fighting for equitable compensation for home health and telehealth services as well as cross-state licensure flexibility.
She added that the United States is advancing swiftly, and it’s really connecting its frameworks with the 21st century care model. Numerous pieces of legislation have been introduced to modernise state telehealth policies. In order to address the issue of the future of online prescriptions for controlled substances, the organisation is also collaborating with Congress and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Although Shean noted that telemedicine has frequently provided care where there had hitherto been no access to healthcare, a lot of the obstacles to telehealth policies have been founded on assumptions that it is somehow inferior to and romanticises in-patient care.
They must acknowledge the accessibility gaps that telemedicine can close as well as the barriers that exist in telehealth as well as other care settings, according to Shean. As additional retail providers, like as CVS, Amazon, and many others, enter the marketplace through mergers and acquisitions, the future of telehealth regulation, particularly how to handle the patient data these companies will have increased access to, may change.
Having a wider tent now helps highlight the various patient populations that can be handled here and attracts more attention, Shean noted, as more stakeholders fight for telehealth on the state level. Congress gave the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services the right to waive some requirements for Medicare coverage of telehealth under the CARES Act. The organisation was able to eliminate geographical limitations, improve the number of Medicare-covered services provided through telehealth, and do a lot more.
Additional legislative initiatives, such as the Telehealth Extension Act and Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act, call for extending access to telehealth.
Tim Walberg, a Republican from Michigan, said after the bill’s presentation at the Capitol in March that telehealth has proven to be a key tool for Americans to access timely and quality healthcare from their own home throughout the pandemic. Telemedicine has lowered barriers to care, increased access to specialists, and enhanced health outcomes, especially for remote regions.
There is a pressing need for Congress to take action right away; Herber urged them to do so before the pandemic ends in 4 months and 20 days. It’s not truly new, she added, but they would love to make it last, and a lot of these rules they have already been pushing for since before the pandemic.