CHARLESTON — U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Angus King (I-Maine) announced Friday legislation to study the impacts of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID–19 Emergency Telehealth Impact Reporting Act of 2020, S.4289, requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to assess key health care metrics, including utilization rates and hospital readmission rates, for patients who received their healthcare through expanded telehealth programs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Telehealth plays such an important role in offering quality, accessible care in our country – especially in more rural states like West Virginia. It is crucial that we fully understand the impact that telehealth has on our communities and keep the highest level of care accessible to patients both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. As a longtime advocate for telehealth services, I view this as an important step towards making many of the recent regulatory telehealth changes permanent. I look forward to the outcome of this study and the part that telehealth will play in the future of our health care in West Virginia and America,” said Senator Capito.
“With coronavirus forcing many healthcare providers to rely on telehealth services, this pandemic has transformed the way patients receive care. I will fight for continued healthcare cost reduction and increased access to underserved Americans by making many of the coronavirus telehealth flexibilities permanent. However, for this effort to succeed Congress must first evaluate how current flexibilities are impacting our healthcare system, and more precisely assess their potential for long-term success. Our legislation would require HHS to collect, analyze, and report on key health care data, including health outcomes and cost savings, so that we can quantify the impact of telehealth services on healthcare quality and accessibility during the public health crisis,” said Senator Young.
“As the coronavirus pandemic has upended our society, telehealth has emerged as a lifeline that can offer safe and effective treatment options many Americans – especially seniors, residents of rural communities, and those at high-risk of contracting the coronavirus,” said Senator King. “The steps Congress took to expand telehealth options at the beginning of the pandemic have helped many Americans access critical services during a time of crisis – but I want us to use these difficult times as a doorway to a more efficient and effective approach to telehealth. Let’s take a hard look at what’s working, what isn’t working and what unexpected developments came with telehealth during this crisis, and map out the best way to use this tool in the future to help Americans access the care they need.”
Companion legislation was also introduced in the House by U.S. Representatives John Curtis (R-Utah), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress, through their COVID relief packages, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) took action to provide millions of Americans access to vital health care services from the safety of their homes. The telehealth flexibilities provided by Congress and CMS permitted health care professionals to treat patients virtually—either by teleconferencing or over the phone—and across state lines, a practice that regulators previously prohibited.
These increased flexibilities resulted in more than nine million Americans receiving a telehealth visit during the public health emergency. This bipartisan legislation will help policymakers evaluate the effectiveness of these changes, specifically if they kept patients healthier and happier, made providers more satisfied, and reduced the overall costs of care.