Medicare would permanently cover audio-only telehealth visits under a new bill introduced Monday by two members of Congress.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), would also remove a requirement that patients receive telehealth services at a health facility for it to be covered by Medicare.
CMS temporarily waived dozens of limitations on telehealth coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the old restrictions will resume after public health emergency unless Congress acts.
Providers and members of Congress have argued the waivers should be made permanent, especially to benefit patients who live in rural areas where patients may not have internet access for video calls.
“This method of healthcare delivery should serve as a bridge to provide better care and remain a permanent option for patients who will not gain access to broadband and technology overnight,” Smith said.
The bill is supported by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Healthcare Leadership Council, and others.
Before COVID-19, Medicare’s coverage of telehealth services was fairly limited. CMS waived dozens of restrictions, making it easier for patients to use telehealth during the pandemic when they were avoiding healthcare facilities. Congress is now working to decide which waivers should be made permanent, but some lawmakers have concerns about potential fraud, waste and cost.
MedPAC has cautioned Congress to temporarily allow targeted telehealth expansion for a few more years to gather more data on costs and outcomes.