• AdvaMed, along with a coalition of more than 300 other healthcare-oriented groups, wrote House and Senate leaders Monday calling for legislation to codify a myriad of telemedicine rules to last beyond the public health emergency. 
  • The medtech lobby joined the American Telemedicine Association and other signees urging Congress to make permanent a host of COVID-19 flexibilities set to expire when the public health emergency declaration ends in late July. While an HHS spokesman said late Monday the agency expects to extend the designation, the groups are worried that Medicare beneficiaries will abruptly lose access to nearly all recently expanded coverage once the PHE is lifted.
  • Separately, Jefferies analysts in a research note Friday made the case that the “genie is out of the bottle” when it comes to telemedicine and the biggest impact of the pandemic on telehealth adoption has been “mass provider acceptance into practice workflows.”

Telehealth adoption in response to the COVID-19 pandemic set a new high bar over the past three months, as social distancing and other measures were implemented to stop the spread of the virus. 

The letter writers contend the long-term viability of telehealth is directly tied to reimbursement and whether doctors will get paid for virtual care.

The goal is to have Congress step in to make sure HHS has the authority and “appropriate flexibility to assess, transition, and codify any of the recent COVID-19-related telehealth flexibilities and ensure telehealth is regulated the same as in-person services,” the groups wrote, referring to changes included in the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. 

Among the telehealth reforms the groups are seeking: permanently removing the current geographic and originating site restrictions to ensure all patients can access care at home and other locations; expanding HHS authority to determine appropriate providers and services for telemedicine; ensuring federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics can provide telehealth services after the public health emergencyand making permanent the HHS temporary waiver authority during future pandemics and natural disasters.

Jefferies contends the past three months have “catalyzed telehealth broadly across many healthcare subsectors” and that “providers’ flip from reluctance to eagerness sparks biz model changes that are underappreciated,” analysts wrote. They pegged Teladoc Health, Quest Diagnostics, Exact Sciences and CareDx as beneficiaries of the trend.    

However, there are signs use of virtual care by physicians is in fact fading. In early April, 14% of the usual weekly number of pre-pandemic visits were being conducted via telemedicine. During the week of June 14 that figure fell to just 8% of visits, according to statistics compiled by Harvard University researchers and health tech company Phreesia.

On Thursday CMS proposed a rule that would allow looser restrictions on home health providers’ use of telehealth to remain permanent after the pandemic. Home health agencies would be able to keep using telecommunications tech under the Medicare home health benefit beyond the public health emergency, such as remote patient monitoring, according to a CMS fact sheet.

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