Members of Congress released a $1.7 trillion proposed omnibus bill that includes a two-year extension of telehealth coverage through 2024.
The 4,155-page spending bill was drawn up by leaders of both political parties. It is expected to go before the Senate first and then the House later this week. If it passes both, it will land on President Joe Biden’s desk.
It has to be approved by the end of Friday or the government faces a potential shutdown.
Telehealth reimbursement waivers enacted as part of the CARES Act in 2020 will be extended until December 31, 2024 if the bill passes into law. Originally, the waivers were supposed to expire 60 days after the end of the public health emergency until an omnibus bill passed in March extended it to 151 days.
The proposed omnibus bill, which has been praised by virtual health advocacy organizations, provides a longer runway for telehealth services to be reimbursed at parity with in-person care.
Provisions include ending the requirement that providers be licensed in the same state as the patient receiving care, allowing more types of practitioners to provide telehealth services, permitting audio-only telehealth services and delaying the in-person requirement for mental health patients seeking treatment through telehealth.It would also extend Medicare programs that rely on telehealth, such as a waiver that allowed for full reimbursement for acute hospital care in the home.
“I honestly was skeptical we were able to get two years,” said Krista Drobac, executive director at the Alliance for Connected Care, a telehealth lobbying group. “I feel more optimistic about our ability to make them permanent.”
The two-year extension is not without future implications. The bill instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to study how telehealth has affected Medicare beneficiaries’ overall health outcomes and whether there are geographic differences in utilization. It also calls for a review of medical claims data. The initial report is due by October 1, 2024.
The bill would also extend telehealth services through 2024 for federally qualified health clinics and rural health clinics.