WASHINGTON, DC — Representatives Mike Sherrill (NJ-11), Rep. David McKinley (WV-01), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Rep. Denver Riggleman (VA-05), Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Rep. Andre Carson (IN-07), Rep. Glenn Thompson (PA-15), Rep. Andy Kim (NJ-03), Rep. Joseph Morelle (NY-25), Rep. Bobby Rush (IL-01), Rep. Albio Sires (NJ-08), Rep. Kevin Hern (OK-01), Rep. William Timmons (SC-04), and Rep. Paul Tonko (NY-20) introduced bipartisan legislation this week to increase access to telehealth services. The Expanded Telehealth Access Act expands the list of the providers eligible for Medicare reimbursement for providing care via telehealth.

“The use of telehealth services during this crisis has demonstrated the critical role technology can play in improving health equity,” said Rep. Sherrill. “No one should have to go without care when a video or phone conversation with a health care provider could mean quicker, safer medical attention.”

To reduce risks associated with visiting medical providers during the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expanded the types of health care providers who receive reimbursement for telehealth services. This legislation makes permanent the reimbursement eligibility for physical therapists, audiologists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists and permits the Secretary of Health and Human services to expand this list.

“Ensuring access to quality health care is more important now than ever. All too often people who live in rural communities in West Virginia don’t have access to the health care specialists they need,” said Rep. McKinley. “It is crucial that such access via telehealth not end abruptly once the public health emergency ends.”

According to the CDC, telehealth services have been particularly valuable for vulnerable populations, especially those with compromised immune systems or in rural areas far from a provider. The CDC also notes that expanded telehealth availability is likely to increase health equity.

“COVID-19 has underscored the need to provide timely and reliable patient care through telehealth services,” said Rep. Riggleman. “I have been at the forefront of expanding telehealth during my time in Congress, and I am proud to be an original sponsor of this legislation that will expand access to telehealth services to rural and underserved communities. This bill will go a long way to remove barriers and bolster healthcare for both patients and providers.”

The Expanded Telehealth Access Act is supported by American Telehealth Association, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLHA), the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the eHealth Initiative and Foundation, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMSS), and the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance).

This summer, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) laid out specific policy priorities to ensure Medicare beneficiaries continue to access telehealth services even when the COVID-19 pandemic ends. One of these priorities is to give the Secretary of HHS the authority to expand the list of providers eligible to offer telehealth to their patients.

“This legislation removes unnecessary statutory barriers that restrict patients’ access to care and empower patients and their providers to decide on the best care options,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of ATA. “As the only organization exclusively dedicated to the advancement of telehealth, the ATA commends Representatives Sherrill and McKinley for introducing the Expanded Telehealth Access Act.”

“Waivers issued by CMS to allow occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants to provide services to Medicare beneficiaries via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the effectiveness of occupational therapy delivered through telehealth and the importance of removing barriers to care,” said AOTA President Wendy C. Hildenbrand, PhDP, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA. “AOTA champions the bi-partisan efforts of Representatives Sherrill and McKinley to ensure that the provision of occupational therapy delivered via telehealth will remain an option for Medicare beneficiaries once the Public Health Emergency ends.”

“The use of telehealth during the pandemic has helped ensure patient access to physical therapist services, helped minimize potential exposure to the virus, and provided an option for therapy clinics and their patients,” said APTA President Sharon L Dunn, PT, PhD. “It is critical for Congress to make this option permanent for Medicare patients. We applaud Rep. Sherrill for her leadership on this important bipartisan legislation with Rep. McKinley, and urge swift action on it.”

“Permanent telehealth access to medically necessary audiology and speech-language pathology services is critical for America’s seniors who live in rural and underserved areas, and especially during the nation’s public health emergency,” said Theresa H. Rodgers, MA, CCC-SLP, 2020 President of ASHA. “ASHA thanks Representatives Mikie Sherrill and David McKinley for recognizing this critical need by introducing the Bipartisan Expanded Telehealth Access Act in the U.S. House of Representatives today. This bill will ensure Medicare beneficiaries permanent telehealth access to hearing, speech, language, swallowing, and cognition related health care services.”

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