Congress Extends Telehealth Waivers

The recent enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) includes provisions to extend beneficial telehealth waiver policies advocated by AHCA/NCAL. Under the current COVID-19 telehealth waiver policy, Medicare beneficiaries in all geographic locations can access telehealth services. Without legislative relief, beneficiaries in their homes, including assisted living residences or in nursing facilities in urban locations, would lose this access once the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends. Title III, Subtitle A, Section 301 of the CAA legislation extends access nationwide for 151 days after the end of the PHE. AHCA/NCAL and a large coalition of provider groups requested a two-year extension.

Section 302 also addresses a request by AHCA/NCAL and a coalition of therapy advocacy organizations to assure continued beneficiary access to rehabilitation therapy services via telehealth once the PHE ends. Specifically, the legislation explicitly lists physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists as eligible telehealth practitioners for 151 days following the end of the COVID-19 PHE.

The following telehealth waiver provisions are also extended for 151 days after the end of the COVID-19 PHE:

  • ​Section 303 extends telehealth services access in federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics.
  • Section 304 delays the in-person requirements for mental health services furnished via telehealth.
  • Section 305 extends the ability for beneficiaries without broadband internet access or difficulty using telehealth technology to still access audio-only telehealth services.
  • Section 306 extends flexibilities for beneficiaries to access hospice recertification via telehealth. ​​​

While temporary, these welcome extensions of telehealth waiver provisions permit more time for policymakers to evaluate the effectiveness of the waivers to determine which should become permanent. Section 308 includes two provisions to achieve this:

  • ​It requires a report on telehealth utilization and policy recommendations to be submitted to Congress by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission no later than June 15, 2023.
  • The legislation directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to publish telehealth utilization data on a quarterly basis and to submit a report to Congress by June 15, 2023 regarding program integrity risks and policy recommendations associated with telehealth services.