What They are Saying: Media Coverage Highlights Looming Telehealth Cliff as Momentum Builds in Congress for Permanent Solutions

Dec 14, 2021

Lawmakers Pledge Action on Comprehensive Reform to Safeguard Access to Virtual Care 

Broad-based, bipartisan momentum is building for Congress to act on permanent comprehensive reform to safeguard every person’s access to telehealth services. 

Protecting telehealth access is essential to protecting continuity of care, quality of life and health care options for millions of people across the U.S. Every day that Congress fails to act drives greater uncertainty. Failure to act on permanent reform would have a chilling effect on access to care across the entire U.S. health care system with potentially dire consequences for those who have remained connected to their providers through virtual care, including the most vulnerable individuals.

Read recent coverage in the media highlighting how critical telehealth has become during the pandemic and the looming telehealth cliff if lawmakers don’t act:

Yuki Noguchi, NPR consumer health correspondent: “So the reason we saw this sudden boom in telehealth was because state and federal governments temporarily did away with their normal restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic. And that’s what allowed doctors to do things like FaceTime us or write prescriptions, you know, even if we’d moved out of state, which would not have been permitted before the pandemic. But those waivers are temporary. Now those exemptions have either expired or are expiring, meaning they’ll default back to the pre-pandemic rules – that is, of course, unless the laws change.” (NPR, 11/17/21)

Ben Leonard, POLITICO: “Telehealth — visiting with a doctor or other medical professional over video or another type of remote connection — has long been touted as a way to expand access to health care. But before the pandemic, adoption was low and Medicare allowed telehealth access only for patients in rural areas…When the Covid-19 pandemic began to sweep the country, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services eased regulations on telehealth use to permit patients to access health care from home to reduce the spread of the virus. Much of that new flexibility is still in place. States also made a number of policy changes to expand access. Why it will stick: Virtual care has been widely popular, prompting private insurers and providers to increase investments in telehealth and other remote technologies. As states have reopened, telehealth usage has leveled off at a rate well above pre-pandemic levels, signaling that a significant number of patients prefer virtual care in some circumstances. CMS recently extended many telehealth flexibilities through 2023.” (POLITICO, 12/10/21)

Tim Broderick & Maya Goldman, Modern Healthcare: “The Health and Human Services Department found that Medicare visits held via telehealth increased 63-fold from 2019 to 2020 as a result of flexibilities put into place due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, according to a new HHS study released Friday. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will use the report’s results to inform future Medicare telehealth policy, CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a news release. CMS already expanded reimbursement for telehealth to treat mental health issues in the hospital outpatient payment rule last month. Beneficiaries were more likely to use telehealth for mental health services in 2020. Employers also increased access to telehealth in 2020.” (Modern Healthcare, 12/3/21)

And see what lawmakers, in both chambers and in both parties, are saying about the need for comprehensive reform to safeguard access to virtual care here:

U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN): “The pandemic has shown us how telehealth services have been a lifeline for patients across Minnesota who may otherwise not be able to access the health care they need. This legislation will ensure that patients who access physical and occupational therapists, audiologists, and speech language pathologists via telehealth can continue to get those services reimbursed permanently, even after the pandemic has ended.” (Press Release, 11/5/21)

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS): “During the pandemic, we have seen telehealth services expand the options of care available to Kansans, especially those living in rural America. As we continue to unlock the potential of telehealth, I’m pleased to introduce this sensible legislation to expand the list of eligible providers that can seek Medicare reimbursement for providing care to seniors.” (Press Release, 11/5/21)

U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV): “The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the growing use of telehealth services in Nevada and across the country, and this is especially important in our state’s rural and underserved areas where it’s already much harder to access in-person medical care. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation which would ensure seniors on Medicare can maintain telehealth access to a range of medical providers when the public health emergency ends, and I will continue fighting for better access to quality, affordable care.” (Press Release, 11/5/21)

U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT): “For many Montanans, the windshield time it takes to see a doctor can be a significant barrier to getting the health care they need. Thankfully, telehealth is transforming how folks receive care. Particularly in our rural communities, telehealth is no longer just an innovative option for accessing services, it has become a vital lifeline to care. After the public health emergency ends, we need to ensure Montanans continue to have access to the telehealth services that they’ve come to rely on and are so important for maintaining the health of our communities and seniors.” (Press Release, 11/5/21)

U.S. Representative Susie Lee (D-NV-03): “During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans were able to access health care through telehealth. The pandemic pushed Congress to test out telehealth flexibilities that have proven to be effective in expanding access to quality, consistent, and affordable health care. However, these policies are set to expire. We can’t afford to take a step backwards when it comes to expanding access to health care. Instead, we should ensure Nevadans and Americans across the country have every tool to access the health care they need – and that’s just what this bill does.” (Press Release, 12/16/21)

U.S. Representative Michelle Steel (R-CA-48): “Telehealth has been life-changing for so many, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased access to telehealth has benefited a wide range of Americans, from seniors to high-risk patients, to those in rural areas. Congress must act to ensure that the millions of Americans to who have utilized this provision do not lose their access to telemedicine.” (Press Release, 12/16/21)

U.S. Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ-11): “The use of telehealth services during this crisis has demonstrated the critical role technology can play in improving health equity. Even now, as vaccinations are being distributed and the country begins to hope for a post-pandemic future, the value of telehealth networks has never been clearer. No one should have to go without care when a video or phone conversation with a health care provider could mean quicker, safer medical attention.” (Press Release, 3/23/21)

U.S. Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH-06): “In the past year-and-a-half, telehealth has to be an indispensable part of our healthcare system, easing the burden on strained hospitals and doctor’s offices, and helping at-risk Americans get necessary health care from the safety of their homes without interruption. As America recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time to make responsible, permanent changes to telehealth policy going forward, to preserve access for the millions of providers and patients who have benefitted from this cost-saving, and life-saving modern technology.” (Press Release, 9/22/21)

U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-VT-AL): “This pandemic has proven that telehealth not only works, but that it’s essential. We saw telehealth services expand to deliver safe, high-quality, and cost-effective care during a time of crisis. At the end of the day, telehealth helps our more vulnerable populations access critical health care, no matter where they live or how mobile they might be. These benefits shouldn’t have an expiration date. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure people can maintain access to these essential virtual care services.” (Press Release, 9/22/21)

U.S. Representative David McKinley (R-WV-01): “During the COVID pandemic, healthcare providers adapted and provided telehealth services to serve the needs of millions of vulnerable Americans. Telehealth services have been beneficial to the health and well-being of America’s seniors and after the public health emergency ends, it’s crucial that critical access to telehealth does not abruptly end.” (Press Release, 3/23/21)

Read what 16 health care leaders recently said about the urgency for Congressional action to protect access to telehealth HERE.