The House of Representatives could vote as early as Wednesday on a bill that would extend telehealth reimbursement flexibilities.
The Committee on Rules moved the measure forward during a hearing Tuesday. The rule, dubbed the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID- 19 Act, would make Medicare flexibilities established during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent through 2024.
"This measure would remove barriers to critical healthcare by making telehealth accessible to everyone," Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the Committee on Rules, said during Tuesday's hearing. "Telemedicine offers an easy alternative for people to talk to their doctors and to get the care that they need from the safety and comfort of their own homes."
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers extended flexibilities allowing Medicare to pay providers for telehealth services regardless of where a patient is located—even from their own home. Under the Social Security Act, a patient typically must be at a healthcare facility in a rural area to receive telehealth services.
Those requirements will go back into effect at the end of the emergency period, unless Congress intervenes.
Healthcare providers have said it's challenging to invest in and build up their telehealth programs given the uncertainty over whether private and public payers will continue to reimburse for such services.
The bill would extend telehealth reimbursement flexibilities through 2024, and not permanently, as Congress continues to establish a funding source and and assess telehealth's impact on quality of care, Rep. Frank Pallone, chair of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, saidduring the hearing.
Extending the telehealth flexibilities for two years will cost $2.5 billion, he said.
"We really want to spend some time … looking at this long-term," Pallone said. "Basically, what we're doing here is just extending the program."
He said a report will come out next year assessing cost, quality of care and program integrity for telehealth.