Broad industry coalition seeks lasting telehealth policy approach

More than 300 healthcare organizations sign a letter to Congress demanding study and action to make permanent regulatory changes.

A wide array of healthcare organizations is pushing for permanent changes in telehealth policy that would assure extensions of waivers and permissions granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative produced a letter signed by 336 organizations that want permanent reform in telehealth policy, reflecting the experience gained from emergency efforts enacted as part of an emergency response to the pandemic.

The broad industry backing seeks reform to alleviate the uncertainty surrounding current emergency measures, which are continued only because the Biden Administration is extending them because of the current public health emergency. That is creating significant uncertainty for the U.S. Healthcare system, the letter’s backers say.

While telehealth encounters have declined from the height of the pandemic nearly two years ago, use of these services is rising among consumers, who appreciate the convenience and immediacy of telehealth-enabled encounters. The breadth of support for telehealth within the industry recognizes increasing acceptance among industry organizations.

The letter was co-led by the Alliance for Connected Care, American Telemedicine Association, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), the Consumer Technology Association, Executives for Health Innovation, the Health Innovation Alliance, the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), the Partnership to Advance Virtual Care, and the Personal Connected Health Alliance.

The letter primarily requests Congressional leaders enact comprehensive permanent telehealth reform that “would provide certainty to patients and our nation’s healthcare providers. Pursuing a path toward reforming telehealth policy would give Congress and the Biden administration time to analyze the impact of telehealth on patient care.

Currently, the determination of a public health emergency must be renewed every 90 days and, as the pandemic potentially recedes, it could be ended by year-end, which could end current supports for telehealth services.

“Many of the telehealth flexibilities that have helped dramatically improve patient access to care are temporary and limited to the duration of the COVID-19 (emergency),” the letter notes. “As it stands today, providers must weigh the costs of investing in the technological and clinical infrastructure reqiored to maintain telehealth programs at scale against the possibility that Congress may ultimately decide not to support permanently expanded telehealth coverage.”

To provide telehealth continuity of telehealth policy, the organizations are asking for:

  • The continuation of current telehealth waivers through the end of 2024.
  • A remit to the Department of Health and Human Services to complete all possible evaluations of telehealth by Fall 2023, with findings combined into a single dashboard that can inform Congress so it can intelligently craft permanent telehealth legislation.
  • The passage of permanent, evidence-based telehealth legislation to be implemented in 2024.

The organizations note that a survey of 1,000 U.S. voters, released in December, showed that 66 percent have a positive opinion of telehealth, with 35 percent having a very positive opinion. Some 54 percent of respondents said telehealth improves the quality of healthcare, compared with 22 percent who said telehealth does not improve quality.

Additionally, the survey found that more than 60 percent of respondents said they’ve used telehealth services in the 12 months before being surveyed, and 90 percent of those report having a positive experience with it.

Previously, several of the signatories of the letter also have written Congress to support inclusion of telehealth services in Medicare legislation, contending that failure to do so, “including the repeal of blanket in-person requirements place on behavioral health (would) serve as a blunt instrument to restrict access to healthcare and do not benefit patients or the Medicare program.”

The vast majority of survey respondents said they want continued access to telehealth services and say it should be offered to those who want virtual care, a point pressed home by the organizers behind the letter to Congress. “Congress should give seniors the option to use telehealth beyond this pandemic with a clear expansion through the end of 2024,” said Brett Meeks, a spokesperson for the Health Innovation Alliance. “This action will give certainty that these services will continue while working towards the ultimate goal of permanent reform.”

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