Thompson, Schatz, Wicker Call for Urgent Action to Permanently Expand Access to Telehealth in Medicare

Press Release

Posted: January 31, 2022

Washington – This week, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Congressional leadership urging legislative action to permanently expand and extend the use of telehealth in Medicare.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has allowed many of my constituents to safely communicate with their medical providers and receive the care they deserve,” said Thompson. “By expanding access to telehealth, we can increase access to quality care, reduce health care costs, and improve health outcomes for every community. We must have legislative action now to assure patients that their care will not end abruptly, and that telehealth remains an option for every American to receive access to care.”

Congressman Thompson is the co-chair of the Congressional Telehealth Caucus. He introduced the bipartisan and bicameral CONNECT Act which is a comprehensive expansion of telehealth services supported by over 170 members of Congress. You can find a one-page summary of the bill here and the bill text here.

The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Angus King (I-Maine), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), James Langevin (D-R.I.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), and Michael Guest (R-Miss.).

The full text of the letter can be found below and here.

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that patients continue to receive the health care they need while keeping health care providers and patients safe. Congress recognized the importance of telehealth and included provisions in COVID-19 legislation to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic. We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February.

An extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients. Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs and resources from health care providers. However, the pandemic telehealth authorities are temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments. Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth. An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term. It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly.

In addition, since the use of telehealth in Medicare was very low before the pandemic, an extension would provide additional time to collect and analyze data on the impacts of telehealth. This data could help inform Congress’s next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections. In the meantime, it is crucial that an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period.

Telehealth has become an essential part of the health care system. The permanent telehealth reforms included in the CONNECT for Health Act, which has bipartisan support from over 170 members of Congress, as well as other telehealth bills, are imperative to increase access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. In February, Congress should extend the authorities that have expanded coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain access to telehealth and provide necessary certainty for Medicare telehealth coverage.

We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.