The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a sea change in coverage of telehealth services, which historically has been frustrated by various statutory and regulatory limitations on coverage. On June 29, APA joined over 340 health advocacy and provider groups—including the American College of Physicians, the American Nurses Association, and the National Association of Social Workers—in a letter to House and Senate leadership (PDF, 15KB) on the impact that expanded telehealth coverage is having on access to care amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter commends Congress and the administration for their efforts to expand coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency, while recommending the following actions to ensure adequate access to care once COVID-19 subsides:
- Permanently removing obsolete coverage restrictions based on the patient’s location;
- Maintaining and enhancing HHS authority to determine appropriate providers and services for telehealth;
- Ensuring Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics can furnish telehealth services; and
- Permanently retaining HHS waiver authority during emergencies.
On June 30, APA CEO Arthur C. Evans, Jr., PhD, testified before the House Energy & Commerce Health subcommittee in support of Rep. Doris Matsui’s, D-Calif., Telemental Health Expansion Act (H.R. 5201), which would permanently remove geographic limitations on Medicare coverage of mental health services provided through telehealth, and allow patients to receive telemental health services at home regardless of where they live. In his testimony, Evans spoke to the positive impact that the recent expansion on telehealth coverage is having on providers and patients alike (PDF, 197KB), recounting experiences of “patients confined to a hospital bed, isolated and without their family, whose only avenue of support was through talking on the phone with a psychologist.” APA also joined with the Maine Psychological Association in support of legislation led by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Todd Young, R-Ind., the Mental and Behavioral Health Connectivity Act (S. 3999), that would permanently extend telehealth for mental and behavioral health services for Medicare patients beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency period, including allowing patients to continue receiving care in their home, and coverage of audio-only telehealth services.