U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) joined a bipartisan contingent of more than 30 members of Congress in calling for expanded Medicare coverage of telehealth-provided audiology and speech-language pathology during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“At a time when individuals with hearing, communication and swallowing disorders face even higher risk for isolation and depression, Medicare beneficiaries must have access to appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic services via telehealth to slow transmission of COVID-19 and ensure they receive medically necessary treatment to meet their functional goals,” Rep. Fitzpatrick and his colleagues wrote in a recent letter sent to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma. 

The current list of approved telehealth services does not adequately ensure Medicare beneficiaries have access to the range of clinically appropriate hearing, speech, language, cognition, and swallowing services, the members wrote. 

“There are a number of audiology and speech-language pathology services that can be provided under Medicare in-person that can also be provided remotely in a safe and effective manner,” wrote the lawmakers, who recommended that the telehealth services list include audiology codes representing core diagnostic tests for identifying the type, severity, and etiology of hearing loss or the need for further vestibular testing. 

Rep. Fitzpatrick and his colleagues also recommended adding to the telehealth services list speech-language pathology codes representing evaluation and treatment of a broader range of speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing disorders, as well as those that relate to evaluating and treating individuals who need speech-generating devices.

“We understand that CMS can issue sub-regulatory guidance to provide better access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries who need the services of audiologists and SLPs [speech-language pathologists],” according to their letter. “We strongly encourage you to issue such guidance to add further audiology and speech-language pathology codes to the authorized telehealth services list for its duration as soon as possible.”

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) was among the 33 other members who joined Rep. Fitzpatrick in signing the letter, which has been endorsed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, the American Academy of Audiology, and the ALS Association.