“I just can’t imagine going back because people recognize the value of this.” 

That’s what Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said recently about the increased use of telehealth, signaling that doctoring from a distance — which has shown itself to be a lifesaving tool during the COVID-19 pandemic — could be here to stay. 

Telehealth allows caregivers to contribute their knowledge and expertise without being physically present at a patient’s bedside. It’s not a new technology, but regulations have slowed its wider adoption by hospitals and health systems. 

That’s changing fast, in no small part because telehealth use among Medicare beneficiaries is up by more than 11,000% over the past couple of months. Plainly speaking, patients welcome the convenience and expanded reach that telehealth allows. 

COVID-19 prompted Congress, CMS and other federal agencies to temporarily waive many restrictions around telehealth, such as limiting Medicare’s coverage for it to rural patients. Since then, telehealth has expanded access to quality care and saved lives.

Now is not the time to roll back its success. The AHA has identified specific legislative and regulatory actions needed to maintain or extend telehealth flexibilities implemented during the COVID-19 public health emergency. These action items address location and eligibility issues, types of services; billing, payment and coverage for telehealth services; and telehealth technologies. 

Last week, the AHA recommended a series of actions, including a number related to telehealth, that CMS should take to support better care after the COVID-19 public health emergency declarations expire. 

There also is bipartisan support in Congress. At a recent Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee hearing, Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the federal government should permanently extend policy changes that nearly doubled the number of Medicare-reimbursable telehealth services and reimburse clinicians for telehealth services provided wherever the patient is located, and consider whether 29 other COVID-19 policy changes should be made permanent. In addition, a bipartisan group of 30 senators recently urged congressional leaders to make permanent provisions included in previous COVID-19 legislation to expand access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries.   

Many more patients have sampled the benefits of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they like what it offers. We’ll continue the push to make this vital tool available to everyone, working together with you to advance health in America. 

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