Scott, Schatz, Shaheen Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Access to Telehealth in the Midst of the Pandemic

WASHINGTON— Today, Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) reintroduced the bipartisan Telehealth Modernization Act that would update coverage restrictions that have long prevented life-saving telehealth services for many of the nation’s roughly 61 million Medicare beneficiaries. They are joined by Senators Blackburn (R-TN), Marshall (R-KS), Tester (D-MT), and Wicker (R-MS).

“As Ranking Member on the Senate Aging Committee, I know how important telehealth is to our nation’s seniors. Telehealth has been a godsend for millions of Americans receiving health care services during the pandemic, while ensuring the spread of the virus stays at a minimum,” said Senator Scott. “Updating our laws to solve today’s challenges through commonsense and practical approaches will ensure more access to health care and a safer aging population.”

“Telehealth has been a critical lifeline for millions of patients who need care during this pandemic. Now we need to make sure that the emergency expansions of telehealth coverage for Medicare beneficiaries are made permanent,” said Senator Schatz. “This new bill works hand in hand with the CONNECT for Health Act by removing unnecessary barriers in Medicare and making it easier to keep using telehealth moving forward.”

While these Medicare access gaps predated the pandemic, the spread of COVID-19 highlighted the urgency of updating telehealth coverage rules, prompting Congress to provide authority for temporary emergency waivers designed to ensure safe access to care for seniors and other vulnerable populations. As the pandemic raged, Medicare beneficiaries turned to telehealth services to minimize exposure risk and receive medically necessary care in safe and accessible settings. In April 2020, more than two-fifths (43.5%) of Medicare FFS primary care visits were provided through telehealth, and from mid-March through early July of that year, more than 10.1 million beneficiaries accessed telehealth services. 

Without further congressional action, however, these emergency flexibilities will expire at the end of the public health emergency, creating chaos for tens of millions of Medicare beneficiaries, including many who have come to rely on telehealth for critically needed care. Our nation’s seniors deserve better. The Telehealth Modernization Act would help to support their needs through necessary updates to coverage policies. 

The Telehealth Modernization Act makes permanent two changes: 

Ensures that patients can access telehealth anywhere by permanently removing Medicare’s so-called “geographic and originating site” restrictions, which required both that the patient live in a rural area and use telehealth at a doctor’s office or certain other clinical sites.

Protects access to telehealth for patients in rural areas.

And gives the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services new authority to do these three things:

Help patients continue to access telehealth from physical therapists, speech language pathologists, and other health care providers. 

Help give Medicare recipients many more telehealth services.

Help Medicare hospice and home dialysis patients use telehealth to keep receiving necessary care.

Supporting Organizations: ACT | The App Association, Alliance for Aging Research, Alliance for Connected Care, American Academy of Neurology, American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Telemedicine Association, American Urological Association, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, Connected Health Initiative, eHealth Initiative, Endocrine Society, Health Innovation Alliance, HIMSS, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Medical University of South Carolina, National Association of ACOs, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Organization for Rare Disorders, Palmetto Care Connections, Personal Connected Health Alliance, Prisma Health, Society of General Internal Medicine, South Carolina Hospital Association