Overview of federal and state legislation action to expand telehealth access during the COVID-19 pandemic
As COVID-19 forces the medical community to respond to their clients in new ways, government is addressing telehealth issues through legislation, executive orders and at the state level. The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.
The $2 trillion CARES Act includes various provisions aimed at boosting telehealth access and use, including the following rule changes:
- Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Centers can act as both the originating or distant site for telehealth services;
- Loosens previous Medicare requirements that restricted coverage to real-time audio-visual technology to allow phone-based services;
- Relaxes requirement that care providers must have seen a patient in-person with the past three years;
- Allows high-deductible health plans with HSAs to cover telehealth services before the member reaches their deductible;
- Eliminates requirement that nephrologists conduct periodic in-person home visits for dialysis patients, and;
- Telehealth may fulfill hospice recertification requirements for face-to-face visits.
The Federal Communications Commission also is increasing investments in telehealth to support efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act also authorized the $200 million FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program. In addition, President Trump’s executive order declaring the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency included telehealth provisions.
States have taken action on telehealth measures in response to COVID-19. The following slides are an in-depth look at how government is responding to telehealth issues in the pandemic.