Senators advocate for the maintenance of telemedicine after a pandemic

• Senators on both sides of the corridor expressed support for the permanent lifting of restrictions on the use of telemedicine on Wednesday at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work, and Pensions. President Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said the top priorities were to remove geo-restrictions and expand reimbursement of Medicare and Medicaid benefits for virtual care services.

• However, legislators seem to be dissatisfied with the cost of paying for services provided through the internet where government taxpayers pay for telemedicine visits and private visits for the same service and remove restrictions on telemedicine completely. HIPAA, which persists as the pandemic progresses, has enabled doctors to treat their patients on a wider range of platforms.

• While changes in telemedicine that will lead to higher usage and that will be beneficial for providers such as Teladoc and Amwell are expected to take effect, they are unlikely to occur until 2021, according to Cowen analysts in a statement, after the hearing on Wednesday.

The Trump administration has largely eased restrictions on the use of telemedicine in the wake of the pandemic, with doctors and patients turning to the service in droves when orders to stay placed began in March.

However, most of the changes, including Medicare’s ability to cover an unprecedented number of paid telemedicine use cases, without enforcing HIPAA restrictions and allowing doctors to use traditional platforms like FaceTime and Skype for tours and the loosening of licensing requirements, will be completed abruptly when the national public health emergency ends.

Telemedicine providers, providers, and patient advocates have asked HHS to support some if not all of the 31 federal policy changes, but most are calling for Congress to pass additional laws. Washington continues to debate whether restrictions on virtual assistance should be permanently relaxed after the end of the pandemic.

However, the hearing and some recently tabled bills suggest growing Congressional support for the digitization of health care.

“I think we’re talking about big changes in the healthcare industry in the long run, if ever,” Alexander said. He called for legislation on disease preparedness to be introduced by the end of this year, including arrangements with telemedicine.

Karen Rheuban, director of the University of Virginia Telehealth Center, and Joseph Kvedar, president of the American Telemedicine Association, agreed that the changes are critical and called for swift action to codify them.

The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) employer group and the Connected Health Initiative, an industry-backed group, sent letters to HELP to request Congress to grant permanent assistance, particularly due to geographic restrictions and coverage. Medicare and work with states and the private sector to expand access.

“We have this deadline to return the refund,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

But Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, said he was “disappointed” that price parity between federal payers and retailers was widespread, as telemedicine could generate savings in the healthcare sector. Expensive health care. Before the pandemic, insurers paid 20-50% less for virtual care visits.

Lawmakers were also concerned about HHS’s decision not to enforce certain HIPAA requirements during the public emergency and raised concerns about the potential for fraud and abuse by hackers and companies that collect and sell patient information without their knowledge. . Providers may be required to sign a trade association agreement that provides HIPAA protection.

“The question of whether to extend HIPAA insurance coverage must be considered,” Alexander said.

Experts and executives from Trump’s health administration have said the genie is practically out of the bottle as the pandemic leads to unprecedented adoption.

The number of Medicare beneficiaries using telemedicine increased more than 11,718% in just a month and a half at the start of the pandemic.

CMS administrator Seema Verma said in late May that her department is reviewing telemedicine exemptions to see if they need to expand beyond the scope of the emergency and are considering new regulations in this regard.

And while Cowen analysts have said the long-term shift in telemedicine is likely to be reflected in the second version of the Cures Act next year, Democratic and Republican lawmakers recently introduced bills that ease restrictions on telemedicine.

These include the Health Bill, which would make Medicare payments for telemedicine permanent at federal health centers and rural health clinics, and a bill that provides $ 50 million for a support program. Remote monitoring in rural health centers and in the community.

About 30 senators signed a letter to Senate leaders Monday asking the panel to consolidate measures that have helped expand virtual aid, including the original requirements for the Nixing site. The letter drew many of its points from the CONNECT for Health Act introduced last year, a treasure trove of telemedicine advocates.

“Congress should permanently extend telemedicine so that it remains an option,” the letter said. This would ensure continuity of patient care and assure providers that implementing virtual care is a “solid long-term investment.”