June 17, 2020 -- Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that at least two of the most important temporary changes in federal policy made to help patients see doctors by phone or video during the COVID-19 pandemic should be extended permanently.
"As dark as this pandemic event has been, it creates an opportunity to learn from and act upon these three months of intensive telehealth experiences, specifically what permanent changes need to be made in federal and state policies," Alexander said.
Alexander said the federal government should 1) permanently extend policy changes that allowed physicians to be reimbursed for a telehealth appointment wherever the patient is located, including the patient's home, and 2) permanently extend the policy change that nearly doubled the number of telehealth services that could be reimbursed by Medicare. He said there were 29 other temporary federal policy changes that could also be considered for being made permanent.
Alexander made his remarks this morning during the Senate health committee hearing -- "Telehealth: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic" -- which featured testimony from telehealth experts about the rapid shift in response to COVID-19 from in-person doctor visits to health care being provided virtually.
"In 2016, there were almost 884 million visits nationwide between patients and physicians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Alexander continued. "If 15-20 percent of those were to become remote permanently due to telehealth expansion during COVID-19--that would produce a massive change in our health care system. Our job should be to ensure that change is done with the goals of better outcomes and better patient experiences at a lower cost."
"Part of this explosion in remote meetings between patients and physicians has been made possible by temporary changes in federal and state policies. The private sector, too, has made important changes. One purpose of this hearing is to find out which of these temporary changes in federal policy should be maintained, modified, or reversed--and also to find out if there are any additional federal policies that would help patients and health care providers take advantage of delivering medical services using telehealth."
"Last week, I released a white paper on steps that Congress should take before the end of the year in order to get ready for the next pandemic. One of those recommendations was to make sure that patients do not lose the benefits that they have gained from using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic."
Alexander concluded: "Even with an event as significant as COVID-19, memories fade and attention moves quickly to the next crisis, so it is important for Congress to act on legislation this year. Because of this 10 years of telehealth experience crammed into 3 months--patients, doctors, nurses, therapists, and caregivers can write some new rules of the road, and we should do so while the experiences still are fresh on our minds."
Read Chairman Alexander's opening statement here.