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The Critical Need for Telehealth Permanency


As our healthcare system continues to plan for “post-COVID” strategies in patient care, a wide range of stakeholders are leading discussions about the future role of telehealth services.

Kyle Zebley

Senior Vice President of Public Policy, American Telemedicine Association

Throughout the public health emergency (PHE), patients, healthcare providers, and the public at-large have seen the significant benefits that telehealth delivers in providing safe and convenient access to high-quality healthcare services. This was made possible due to flexibilities put in place allowing temporary access to telehealth under the PHE. Looking to the future, Congress and the Administration must now take steps in healthcare policy to ensure that access to telehealth remains in place beyond the PHE and continues to bring these benefits to patients across the United States.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) is currently asking Congress for a two-year extension of these flexibilities and waivers, while continuing to advocate for permanent access to virtual care services in both the Medicare program and the commercial market, such as provisions in law set to expire on December 31 that allow people with a high deductible health plan (HDHP) health savings account (HSA) to access telehealth coverage without first having to meet annual deductibles.

In further efforts to support the permanency of telehealth, ATA introduced a platform of principles designed to guide policy decisions related to technology-enabled care in the years ahead. With a primary focus on ensuring patient choice, access, and satisfaction, the ATA policy principles also call for the essential levels of autonomy for healthcare providers in decisions related to care delivery and patient management, broad coverage and reimbursement for telehealth services, and the opportunity for patients to access care across state lines. Policy decisions at the state and federal levels should also allow non-physician members of care teams to offer telehealth services, such as the ability to remotely prescribe clinically appropriate controlled substances, expand access to underserved and at-risk populations, help seniors continue to use telehealth to support “aging in place,” and work to maintain the highest standards in integrity and security.

Prioritizing the patient perspective

To ensure that the patient perspective is front and center in policy decisions, the ATA’s affiliated trade organization, ATA Action, launched a new Patient Voices for Telehealth Coalition (PVTC). This initiative invites organizations representing diverse patient communities to provide perspectives on federal and state policies related to virtual care and participate in the development of new policies that can support the advancement of telehealth. Through the PVTC, more leaders in patient advocacy can play a central role in shaping a future of healthcare that provides all Americans with safe, quality care where and when they need it.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it an unprecedented level of both challenge and innovation in the delivery of healthcare services. It also significantly reinforced the benefits that telehealth can provide to patients, caregivers, clinicians, and society. As we plan for a post-COVID strategy in healthcare, the ATA policy principles represent both essential and achievable goals to guide many policy decisions, by keeping a focus on the benefits to patients and healthcare providers and creating strategies that will offer the highest levels of quality and security in service delivery.

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