Balderson, Fischer seek to expand access to telehealth services across the nation

Bipartisan, bicameral legislation sponsored on March 9 by U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) and U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) would require the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to study and produce a public report on the actions taken to expand access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“By permanently expanding telehealth services, we can level the healthcare playing field for years to come,” Rep. Balderson said on Tuesday.

Additionally, the legislation would require a report to Congress on the efficiencies, management, successes, and failures of the expansion of telehealth services during the public health emergency. These studies then could be used by Congress to support and inform the future of telehealth, according to the lawmakers. 

“Millions of Americans, including many Nebraskans, have benefited from telehealth services during this pandemic,” Sen. Fischer tweeted on March 9. “This bipartisan legislation will provide Congress with valuable information on telehealth. It will enable us to improve and expand this technology to continue saving lives.” 

Rep. Balderson introduced the Knowing the Efficiency and Efficacy of Permanent (KEEP) Telehealth Options Act of 2021, H.R. 1677, with eight original cosponsors, including U.S. Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Cindy Axne (D-IA). Sen. Deb Fischer and U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) unveiled a companion bill, S. 620, in their chamber.

Specifically, the measure would instruct HHS to work with the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program’s Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) to study and report to Congress on the uptake of telehealth services by patients across the country, and to make recommendations for improving both quality of and access to telehealth services, according to the text of the bill. 

“At nearly the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changing Ohioans’ daily lives, many routine activities continue to take place online, including work, schooling, socialization, and healthcare, to name a few,” said Rep. Balderson. “For many rural and low-income Ohioans, this shift to telehealth has been beneficial, breaking down previous barriers for them to access quality care.”

The proposed bill received endorsements from the Ohio Hospital Association, OhioHealth, Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Mount Carmel Health System, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Ohio Physical Therapy Association, and University Hospitals.