Rep. Cheney co-authors telehealth services bill

WYOMING – Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney teamed with Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell to introduce a bill advancing access for many Americans to telehealth services.

The Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021 was introduced on Tuesday and is intended to codify critical telehealth policies implemented during the most restrictive health measures of the pandemic while also making it easier for the elderly and those in rural areas to access emerging health-care technologies.

“This bill will allow Americans to utilize telehealth services even after the emergency declaration has ended. COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges, including the facilitation of a safe environment for our seniors to receive high-quality health care,” Cheney said in a statement. “Fortunately, Congress was able to remove many of the barriers that prevented seniors from utilizing telehealth services from the comfort and safety of their homes. As a result, telehealth use among seniors has continued to rise and this legislation would continue this successful trend well after the pandemic is over by permanently cutting burdensome red tape, while allowing Medicare to adapt to the ever-changing innovation in medical technology.”

The bill would permanently remove originating site and geographical limitations that were waived, only temporarily, with the CARES Act. Before the waiver went into effect, Medicare beneficiaries who wanted to utilize telehealth services could only do so at a designated “originating site” and only in the event of a physician shortage. The bill would also allow any physician who can currently bill for Medicare to be eligible for this waiver and would cover specified forms of telemedicine.

Among the bill’s other stated purposes is cementing the telehealth coverage at federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics on a permanent basis. It would also give rural providers the ability to serve patients remotely while being compensated properly.

The bipartisan bill also removes restrictions that limit health-care providers’ ability to provide access to smart devices and innovative technology to their patients. This, along with allowing Medicare providers to remotely monitor and track their patient’s health, will improve the quality of life for a patient while reducing costly trips to the emergency room.

This legislation has gained a lot of traction among medical associations and health-care affiliated groups. American Medical Association President Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., “strongly endorsed” the bill in a statement where he said it would bring telehealth coverage into the 21st century. The Connected Health Initiative, a connected health ecosystem across the country focused on digital health innovations, sent a letter to Cheney and Dingell in support of the legislation.

The bill has also gained the support of the Wyoming Hospital Association and the Wyoming Primary Care Association.

“Wyoming Hospital Association is very grateful that Congresswoman Cheney is bringing this legislation forward. Access to care by utilizing RHCs and FQHCs to deliver telehealth has been one of the good things to come through COVID. In a rural state these health care delivery locations are incredibly important in allowing patients to receive care and having adequate and allowable reimbursement for these services makes incredible sense,” the WHA said in a statement. “We have learned a great deal during the pandemic and access to care while keeping people in their communities is extremely important.”