House passes bill to expand COVID-era telehealth services

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The House passed a bill Wednesday to expand telehealth services that were first introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, titled the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID–19 Act, passed in a 416-12 vote. Eleven Republicans and one Democrat objected to the measure. Two Republicans did not vote.

Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Jody Hice (R-Ga.), Clay Higgins (R-La.), Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Mary Miller (Ill.), Chip Roy (R-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) all voted “no.”

The measure seeks to continue a number of telehealth policies established under Medicare that were first implemented at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the provisions would continue through 2024.

The bill calls for eliminating geographical requirements for receiving telehealth services and increasing the number of originating sites for two years, both of which are meant to grow the number of locations from which an individual can receive telemedicine.

The legislation also requires broadened telehealth services provided by qualified physicians and practitioners, such as physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, registered dietitians, clinical social workers and psychologists.

Additionally, the bill seeks to extend Medicare reimbursements for telehealth services through 2024 administered by personnel employed by federally qualified health centers and rural health centers, among other measures.

During debate on the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the measure will “expand freedom for patients by giving them more flexibility, more capability to use telehealth services.”

“While I know we in this body will continue to have legitimate and important ongoing policy debates about health care, there is, as I said, broad bipartisan agreement for expanding access so that all of our citizens can receive high-quality care. That needs to continue to be a top priority. This bill does just that by allowing more Americans to utilize telehealth services,” she added.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), another co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure will “allow those who’ve been afraid to go to the doctor, who haven’t been able to get in, to be able to consult with medical professionals as they need it.”

While a number of Republicans spoke on the House floor in support of the bill, some GOP lawmakers argued that more needs to be done when it comes to telehealth services.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill was “a missed opportunity to do more.”

“Republicans on Energy and Commerce have many solutions to not just look at telehealth and Medicare for a couple of years but to look also at how we incentivize employers to provide access to telehealth for an estimated 156 million people with employer health insurance,” she said.

“We have examined and worked on solutions to address both where telehealth may not be appropriate and where it drives better outcomes for patients. Health care providers and patients need certainty. The pandemic has made clear that telehealth can and should be a part of modernizing health care,” she added.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), a medical doctor, said that while he supports the bill, a permanent solution is necessary.

“While I am in support of this legislation, it does not go far enough. We do need to provide a permanent solution for Medicare providers and, most importantly, their patients. It is important that providers are given long-term certainty when taking care of their Medicare patients and are technologically capable of delivering the best care possible,” he said during debate on the House floor.

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) also thought the bill’s extension fell short.

“There’s a couple of problems with the bill the Democrats decided to bring to the floor. It’s a two year — we were compromised to four. You want capital investments in technology, you got to give us at least four. It should be permanent,” he said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responded to those complaints, saying that the committee was “reluctant” to permanently authorize the telehealth flexibility expansion because it is expensive and a “major change” that “needs a lot of study,” oversight and investigation.

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