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2024 to become ‘Super Bowl’ of telehealth regulation, trade group says

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ATA publishes 2024 policy agenda after solid year of advocacy in 2023.

2024 to become ‘Super Bowl’ of telehealth regulation, trade group says | Image Credit: © stokkete - © stokkete - stock.adobe.com.

2024 to become ‘Super Bowl’ of telehealth regulation, trade group says | Image Credit: © stokkete - © stokkete - stock.adobe.com.

This year promises to be a Super Bowl of telehealth, according to plans by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA).

The year 2024 has at least two major factors that could be hugely influential for telehealth, according to the organization and its affiliated ATA Action advocacy nonprofit.

It’s a presidential election year, and it will bring the end of the telehealth flexibilities that Congress enacted by during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued after the end of the public health emergency. Those need to remain in place, said Kyle Zebley, ATA senior vice president for public policy and ATA Action executive director.

“With Congress back in session, the clock officially starts counting down,” Zebley said in a news release this month. “It’s time for the administration and our congressional leaders to take permanent action to ensure patients across the country have access to safe, affordable and effective health care where and when they need it and provide certainy to beneficiaries and our nation’s health care providers. That would be a win-win.”

Priorities in place

ATA has a list of legislative priorities for the year, starting with making permanent the Medicare telehealth flexibilities implemented during the pandemic.

  • Remove “antiquated” geographic and originating site restrictions.
  • Ensure fair payment and availability for 1,400 federally qualified health centers and 4,300 rural health clinics furnishing telehealth services.
  • Expand the list of eligible Medicare providers to include physical therapists, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists and audiologists
  • Make permanent coverage for audio-only treatment.

Bills introduced

ATA also advocates for pending legislation that would affect telehealth:

The “Telemental Health Care Access Act,” House Resolution (HR) 3432, would remove the statutory in-person requirement for telemental health. That would allow patients to receive care where and when they need it, according to ATA.

The “Telehealth Expansion Act” would extend the exemption for telehealth services, allowing 32 million people with high-deduction health plans with health savings accounts to use the services. The legislation is HR 1843 and Senate Bill (S.) 1001.

The “Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act of 2023” would treat telehealth services as an excepted benefit for part-time, contracted workers who don’t qualify for health care coverage.

The “Telehealth Response to E-Prescribing Addiction Therapy Services Act” would permanently remove the in-person examination requirement for prescribing controlled substances for treating substance use and opioid use disorders. While significant, that legislation does not address broader issues of “access for vulnerable and underserved populations needing controlled substances for other clinical conditions,” according to ATA.

“There’s no need for Congress to wait until the deadline to take action and ensure permanent access to virtual care services for all individuals, whenever and wherever they need it,” Zebley said. “The ATA and ATA Action have a solid gameplan and will continue to work with Congress to ensure the appropriate telehealth policies are implemented in a timely manner so that telehealth isn’t left on the sidelines.”

2023 events

ATA also sought to increase its legislative reach in 2023. In September, the organization held its first Hill Day during Telehealth Awareness week, meeting with more than 30 congressional offices. In October, ATA hosted an in-person congressional caucus briefing, and in December held the ATA EDGE Policy Conference for more than a dozen bipartisan, bicameral congressional leaders.

Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Texas and Washington all passed legislation or changed regulations that generally expanded telehealth and removed barriers to virtual care, according to ATA’s official log of state policy changes.

This article was initially published by our sister publication, Medical Economics.

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