Representatives Sherrill, McKinley Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Access to Telehealth Services

March 23, 2021
Press Release
Legislation expands practitioners eligible for Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services

Washington, DC -- Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) and David McKinley (WV-01), with Rep. Joseph Morelle, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Rep. Albio Sires, Rep. Claudia Tenney, Rep. Joyce Beatty, Rep. Rodney Davis, Rep. Bobby Rush, Rep. Don Young, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan, Rep. Paul Tonko, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., Rep. Tom O’Halleran, and Rep. Andre Carson reintroduced bipartisan legislation today 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. “Even now, as vaccinations are being distributed and the country begins to hope for a post-pandemic future, the value of telehealth networks has never been clearer. 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. I’m so proud to be reintroducing this crucial legislation that will help modernize our health care system and ensure quality care is more accessible to more people."

“During the COVID pandemic, healthcare providers adapted and provided telehealth services to serve the needs of millions of vulnerable Americans,” said Rep. McKinley. “Telehealth services have been beneficial to the health and well-being of America’s seniors and after the public health emergency ends, it’s crucial that critical access to telehealth does not abruptly end. This bill ensures seniors will continue to receive quality, accessible care now and after the pandemic.”

In part to reduce any 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.

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.

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), the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance), and the Alliance for Connected Care.

Last 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.

“We appreciate Representatives Sherrill and McKinley for introducing the Expanded Telehealth Access Act,” said A. Lynn Williams, PhD, CCC-SLP, President of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). “It will give Medicare beneficiaries more options to access audiologists and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) for critical hearing, balance, speech, language, swallowing, and cognitive care they need by providing coverage of these services when delivered through telehealth. The introduction of this bill marks an important step toward ASHA’s ultimate goal of providing seniors with more timely and greater access to the full range of services that audiologists and SLPs are licensed by states to provide through other programs and payers.”

“This legislation is urgently needed in order to appropriately and effectively ensure access to quality care for all individuals and empowers healthcare practitioners to best care for their patients. We thank Representatives Sherrill and McKinley for their diligence in reintroducing the Expanded Telehealth Access Act and their ongoing support of telehealth and virtual care services,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). “The ATA remains in lock step with these bipartisan legislators in their efforts to make sure our healthcare system can deliver safe, effective and convenient care to patients wherever and whenever needed.”

“The use of telehealth during the pandemic has helped ensure patient access to physical therapist services, minimize potential exposure to the virus, and provided an option for therapy clinics and their patients during quarantine restrictions,” said APTA President Sharon L Dunn, PT, PhD. “And, it’s made it all the more clear just how valuable telehealth is to patients who may need alternative access to therapy. It is critical that Congress make this option for therapy services permanent for Medicare patients, beyond the public health emergency. We applaud Rep. Sherrill for her leadership on this important bipartisan legislation with Rep. McKinley, and urge swift action on it.

“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 Wendy C. Hildenbrand, PhD, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA, President of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). “AOTA champions the bi-partisan efforts of Representatives Sherrill and McKinley to insure that the provision of occupational therapy delivered via telehealth will remain an option for Medicare beneficiaries once the Public Health Emergency ends.”

“We applaud the reintroduction of the Expanded Telehealth Access Act – critical legislation that should be included in any telehealth package to remove unnecessary restrictions on access after the public health emergency,” said Krista Drobac, Executive Director, Alliance for Connected Care. “The Alliance strongly supports changes to distant site provider list restrictions to allow physical therapists, audiologists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists to provide appropriate services to beneficiaries through telehealth.” 

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