Patients may be able to continue using telehealth like they have been, if legislation passed by the federal House of Representatives moves forward.
The Latest Legislation
Last month, House members overwhelmingly supported a bill that would extend the eased telehealth rules through the end of 2024. In addition to allowing telehealth visits from patients’ homes, the bill would ensure audio-only visits remain covered for Medicare beneficiaries.
It isn’t clear when the Senate will consider the measure, but there appears to be significant support for continuing the widespread availability of telehealth. Current telehealth rules are set to expire five months after the end of the public health emergency. That declaration has been extended 10 times to date. It currently runs through October 13, 2022.
Telehealth coverage for those with high-deductible health plans is one issue House legislation did not address. Right now, patients who have high-deductible health plans can get virtual care covered even if they have not met their deductible. More than 30 million Americans could be affected if that provision expires as scheduled at the end of this year.
Increased Use and Benefits of Telehealth
Use of telehealth services grew exponentially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, even as the pandemic has eased, virtual appointments remain popular.
For some, telehealth is simply more convenient. For others, telehealth solves such challenges as not having transportation, or not having a flexible work schedule that allows time for in-person doctor visits. Meeting virtually could also be a matter of mental health for certain patients. Waiting rooms, for example, could be triggering environments for some people with autism.
Telehealth has also been credited with increasing access to specialty providers, especially for those who live in rural and underserved areas.
More Legislation Ahead
While the July 27 vote by the House was a promising first step, passing that bill is only a short-term solution. Congress will need to decide which flexibilities to include within permanent telehealth reform – and how to fund them into the future.
Even after the pandemic, telehealth should continue to be offered as a complement to in-person care, ensuring that each patient can receive optimal care when and where they need it.