Industry News

Telehealth Modernization Act Sees Groundswell of Support

  • The Telehealth Modernization Act a bi-partisan measure, could allow telehealth flexibilities that were introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic to be extended.
  • Current extensions from the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire at the end of 2024.
  • The measure has support from several healthcare organizations and advocacy groups. 

Kari Williams

Nursing CE Central

June 24, 2024
Simmons University

Telehealth flexibilities that were introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic could be around a few years more, if Congress approves the latest iteration of the Telehealth Modernization Act.

The bi-partisan measure would amend a section of the Social Security Act to make some telehealth flexibilities permanent under Medicare and extend others that were enacted because of the pandemic. It has support from the medical community, which is reinforced by advocacy initiatives, research studies, and trend reports.

However, the issue is time-sensitive, as extensions to the original pandemic-initiated measures are set to expire at the end of 2024.

Speaking to Chief Healthcare Executive earlier this month, Kyle Zebley, senior vice president of public policy for the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), said he’s confident the measure will pass, though it’s still a pain point for the healthcare community.

“Healthcare systems make appointments a year in advance,” Zebley said. “We’re going to be a stone’s throw away from this thing expiring, potentially, before Congress takes action. The Christmas decorations will likely be up if our predictions are true.” 

Telehealth Modernization Act

What’s the Telehealth Modernization Act?

The Telehealth Modernization Act (H.R. 7623) was introduced in March, and in May, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health unanimously advanced the measure, which:

  • Would expand practitioner eligibility in regard to providing telehealth services;
  • Retain additional services and subregulatory processes for modifications following the emergency period;
  • Enhance telehealth services for federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics; and
  • Allow use of telehealth, as appropriate, for face-to-face encounters for hospice care and clinical assessments for home dialysis.

Georgia Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, one of seven representatives who introduced the measure, said in a news release that permanently extending telehealth flexibilities for Medicare patients, healthcare is more accessible for seniors, regardless of their geographical location.

“As a pharmacist, one of my top priorities has been increasing the accessibility and quality of health care; this bill does both, in a bipartisan manner, and paves the way for more patients and providers to use this technology,” Carter said.

Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester said in the same release that the pandemic showed up important it is to have access to telehealth services, particularly for seniors.

“While we’ve made great strides in broadening the availability of telehealth services, we know that there’s more work to be done. I’m proud to join Rep. Carter in introducing the Telehealth Modernization Act this Congress – bipartisan legislation that would increase access to telehealth services for seniors on Medicare no matter where they live,” she said.

More than a dozen medical and healthcare organizations have thrown their support behind the legislation. Just last week, ATA Action (ATA’s advocacy arm) urged legislators to move on the Telehealth Modernization Act and other telehealth-related legislation.

“The clock is ticking,” Zebley stated in a news release. “We need Congress to act now, so that appropriate telehealth policies are implemented in a timely manner without arbitrary and unnecessary barriers to care such as in-person, brick-and-mortar, or geographic requirements.” 

What Does the Data Show?

National telehealth trends, reviewed by a division under the Department of Health and Human Services, show that by March 2022 there was a “steady use of telehealth” that remained above pre-pandemic levels. However, the analysis highlighted disparities related to certain populations and insurance types.

Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey data from April 2021 to August 2022, the analysis also revealed that telehealth use rates were highest among Medicaid and Medicare users, people who are Black, and those who earn less than $25,000. Rates were lower among the uninsured, young adults (ages 18 to 24), and Midwest residents.

Similarly, a 2022 original investigation on patient characteristics and telemedicine use found that while myriad patients opt for telehealth when in-person is available, “telemedicine access, particularly video visits, was less likely among key populations who experience barriers to accessing care.”

“Our study found that two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine was still used by over two-fifths of adult patients nationally, notably among patients with greater care needs, suggesting that telemedicine could endure as a satisfactory option in health care delivery,” the study authors wrote.

Telehealth Modernization Act

Studies Highlight Benefits of Telehealth

The top five diagnostic categories for telehealth claims were mental health conditions; acute respiratory diseases and infections; encounter for examination; endocrine and metabolic disorders; developmental disorders, according to March 2024 data from FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker.

The Post-Acute Recovery Care (PARC) Model of care has been a focus of telehealth-related research in recent years. Earlier this month, Hiam Naiditch, MD, MHS, pulmonary and critical care fellow at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, presented findings from his  VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System study at the American Thoracic Society’s international conference. He found that veterans were treated with the PARC model after a serious illness “experienced fewer deaths and more days outside of the hospital than those not enrolled in PARC.”

“Our results are preliminary, but if confirmed in a large, randomized control trial, could provide a model for improving transitional care for ICU survivors,” Naiditch told Healio.

An earlier study, conducted at White Plains Hospital in Westchester County, New York, found that a “multifaceted telehealth approach” for a transitional care program, WPH Cares, reduced hospital readmissions for those who had previously been in an acute-care setting. 

Telehealth Modernization Act

The Bottom Line

Telehealth policies that were laxed during the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire at the end of 2024. But the bi-partisan Telehealth Modernization Act would not only extend some of those policies once more but grant permanent telehealth flexibilities for Medicare recipients. The measure has a groundswell of support from the healthcare community and academic research backs up the benefits of the technology. As of June, the measure had not been approved. 

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