Urge Congress to create comprehensive permanent telehealth reform

WASHINGTON, DC, JANUARY 9, 2024 – As the second session of the 118th U.S. Congress opens today,   and the nation enters a presidential election year, the American Telemedicine Association and ATA Action reveal their top policy priorities, and urge Congress to prepare for the 2024 telehealth “Super Bowl.”

“The ATA and ATA Action’s top priority is to make permanent all of the Medicare telehealth flexibilities implemented during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), which are set to expire by year-end,” said Kyle Zebley, senior vice president, public policy, the ATA, and executive director, ATA Action. “With Congress back in session, the clock officially starts counting down today. It’s time for the Administration and our Congressional leaders to take permanent action to ensure patients across the country have access to safe, affordable and effective healthcare where and when they need it and provide certainty to beneficiaries and our nation’s healthcare providers. That would be a win-win!”

The ATA and ATA Action game plan outlines how Congress can create comprehensive permanent telehealth reform, including passage of the CONNECT for Health Act (H.R. 4189, S. 2016) and the Telehealth Modernization Act (re-introduction pending):

  • Make Medicare telehealth flexibilities implemented during the PHE permanent:
    • Remove antiquated Section 1834(m) geographic and originating-site restrictions;
    • Ensure that the roughly 1,400 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and 4,300 Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) continue to furnish telehealth services while receiving fair payment;
    • Permanently expand the list of eligible Medicare providers, including physical therapists, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists and audiologists;
    • Maintain audio-only coverage permanently; and
    • Enact the Telemental Health Care Access Act (R. 3432), which would remove the statutory telemental health in person requirement, allowing patients to receive care where and when they need it, especially when they are most vulnerable.
  • Ensure affordable telehealth services for the commercially insured by passing the Telehealth Expansion Act (1001, H.R. 1843) to permanently extend the exemption for telehealth services and allow the 32 million Americans with high-deductible health plans with Health Savings Accounts (HDHP-HSAs) to continue using these using these lifesaving services.
  • Ensure affordable telehealth coverage for part-time, contracted workers who don’t qualify for healthcare coverage by either extending this flexibility for three years or the Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act of 2023 (R. 824) which would treat telehealth services as an excepted benefit.
  • Seek the removal of the in-person requirement for the remote prescribing of controlled substances as part of a comprehensive regulatory solution for telemedicine proposed by the DEA. One of the ways Members of Congress can engage is by supporting the bipartisan, bicameral Telehealth Response to E-Prescribing Addiction Therapy Services (TREATS) Act (R. 5163, S. 3193) which would permanently remove this in-person exam requirement for the prescription of controlled substances for the use of substance use and opioid use disorders. While the TREATS Act represents significant progress, it does not fully address the broader issue of access for vulnerable and underserved populations needing controlled substances for other clinical conditions, underscoring the need for Congress to continue encouraging the Drug Enforcement Administration to establish an inclusive and workable regulatory framework.

“For the past several years, telehealth has proven to be an MVP, expanding access to care, reducing costs, and mitigating the negative impact of provider shortages, effectively making the healthcare system more efficient,” Zebley added. “There’s no need for Congress to wait until the deadline to take action and ensure permanent access to virtual care services for all individuals, whenever and wherever they need it. The ATA and ATA Action have a solid gameplan and will continue to work with Congress to ensure the appropriate telehealth policies are implemented in a timely manner so that telehealth isn’t left on the sidelines.”

Read about key federal and state policy wins in 2023.

About ATA Action

ATA Action recognizes that telehealth and virtual care have the potential to transform the healthcare delivery system by improving patient outcomes, enhancing the safety and effectiveness of care, addressing health disparities, and reducing costs. ATA Action is a registered 501c6 entity and an affiliated trade organization of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA).

About the ATA

As the only organization completely focused on advancing telehealth, the American Telemedicine Association is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to safe, affordable, and appropriate care when and where they need it, enabling the system to do more good for more people. The ATA represents a broad and inclusive member network of leading healthcare delivery systems, academic institutions, technology solution providers and payers, as well as partner organizations and alliances, working to advance industry adoption of telehealth, promote responsible policy, advocate for government and market normalization, and provide education and resources to help integrate virtual care into emerging value-based delivery models.