The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill to extend telehealth reimbursement flexibilities for two years.
The bill, H.R. 4040, easily passed by a vote of 416-12 and heads to the Senate.
The Committee on Rules had moved the measure, a rule dubbed the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2022, forward during a hearing Tuesday.
The rule, introduced by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) last year, would extend Medicare flexibilities established during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was endorsed by healthcare trade groups including the American Medical Association and the Connected Health Initiative.
Following the vote, the Alliance for Connected Care and Telehealth Access for America, two healthcare advocacy groups, applauded the bill's passage.
"We encourage lawmakers in both chambers to work together in a spirit of bipartisan collaboration to pass solutions into law that will ensure access to virtual care is safeguarded for the millions of patients who have come to rely on telehealth during the pandemic, including seniors, rural households, and underserved communities," Julia Mirich, a Telehealth Access for America spokesperson, said in a statement.
Lawmakers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic waived Social Security Act requirements that said a patient must be at a healthcare facility in a rural area to receive telehealth services. That meant Medicare could pay providers for telehealth services regardless of where a patient was located, including from their own home.
However, such requirements will go back into effect when the emergency period ends, unless Congress changes the law.
The Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act seeks to do that by extending telehealth reimbursement flexibilities through 2024, as Congress looks into establishing a funding source and assesses telehealth outcomes, including the impact of virtual care on cost, care quality and fraud.
Telehealth fraud has been a growing area of focus for the federal government. The Justice Department last week announced charges against 36 people for $1.2 billion in alleged healthcare fraud, with more than $1 billion of the total alleged losses stemming from telehealth schemes.
While healthcare providers have built up their telehealth capabilities since 2020, many have said it's challenging to do so given the uncertainty over whether private and public payers will continue to reimburse for such services. MedStar Health in Columbia, Maryland, is among health systems that have said they plan to continue investing in telehealth, but also expect the reimbursement for virtual services to continue.