Thank You Congress for Extending Telehealth Flexibilities. Now, Let’s Work Toward Permanent Reform.

Jan 30, 2023

Thank you to our congressional leaders for taking a major step in support of safeguarding patient access to virtual care in the end-of-year omnibus legislation. By acknowledging the need for telehealth protections, lawmakers have awarded millions another two years to obtain safe, accessible health care without immediate fear of a telehealth cliff. This significant, bipartisan step forward helps to ensure health access for millions who rely on telehealth. However, there is more work to be done in order to ensure lasting virtual care access for millions. 

Increased access to telehealth is a result of pandemic-era flexibilities, but now, these flexibilities are only extended until the end of 2024. Telehealth has resulted in better health outcomes, greater levels of health equity, lower costs, and more patient choice among both patients and providers. 

For example, one analysis found telehealth expands access to health care without increasing costs to taxpayers, with average patients utilizing telehealth seeing a 61 percent decrease in health care expenses. Another study found that clinicians and specialists have a greater ability to serve the current unmet needs of underserved communities, communities of color, seniors and hard to access parts of rural America. 

Take a 32-year-old eating disorder patient who utilized the benefits of telehealth, for example. This real-life patient lives in a “smaller rural community in Oklahoma” where “there was no support for me within driving distance.” It was through telehealth appointments that he was able to work with a dietician and obtain care. This patient said, “If it were not having access to telehealth, I would not be where I am today. I can say I’m healthier, happier and a better father and husband because of the virtual care I received.” 

This patient is not alone in his support for telehealth – according to a 2022 NORC study of commercial insurance enrollees, 73 percent of telehealth users believe Congress should make current telehealth flexibilities permanent.

Telehealth has also been shown to reduce provider burnout and increase flexibility as well as allow for greater work-life balance for providers, leading to great levels of physician support for permanent telehealth access, such as shown in an October 2022 study from Yale, which found that six out of seven opioid-disorder physicians surveyed supported the idea of making COVID era telehealth access permanent. “I am a proud Telehealth provider,” one specialist said. “I hope this service continues indefinitely!”

The extension of critical telehealth flexibilities for another two years as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 was a huge step in the right direction for virtual care and was applauded as such. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), said, “I’m pleased that the bill includes a two-year extension of telehealth flexibilities that are popular with Americans and health care providers alike, in addition to relief for providers as they continue to stabilize following financial challenges associated with the pandemic.” And the Alliance for Connected Care, noted these protections as a “game changer for the 32 million Americans who would otherwise have to think twice about out-of-pocket costs in accessing care.” 

As the new year begins, we celebrate the great strides that have been made to ensure telehealth access for the millions who rely on it and thank Congress for their dedication to safeguarding patient and provider access. We look forward to working with the new Congress to ensure permanent protections for those who rely on telehealth.

Learn more about how Congress can act now to safeguard access to telehealth HERE