House GOP committee members release draft telehealth expansion plan

U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Republicans on Monday unveiled a discussion draft for a bill that would expand the availability of telehealth services under the Medicare program.

Patients and stakeholders want to know if temporary waivers issued by Congress and the administration to expand telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic will become a permanent part of telehealth in Medicare, according to the discussion draft, which “aims to serve as a starting point for that conversation.”

Among the Republican members who helped develop the discussion draft are U.S. Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Tom Rice (R-SC), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Darin LaHood (R-IL), Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), and Ron Estes (R-KS).

“Speaking with local doctors and health providers weekly, we know how critical these temporary telehealth expansions have been to our communities’ access to medical care,” Rep. Reed said. “It is only fair that these important provisions are made permanent as we look to increase the availability of telehealth services and provide rural health clinics with greater flexibility to serve regions like ours.”

Rep. Wenstrup pointed out that during the past few months, the nation has seen success in leveraging technology to provide care to Medicare beneficiaries through expanded telehealth access. “Building upon that success,” he said, “Congress should now work toward making these changes permanent as appropriate, and I’m proud to support this effort.”

Rep. Kelly said that telehealth in rural communities has allowed senior citizens to connect with nurses and physicians in their own homes during the pandemic. “This legislation will further increase access to this growing and affordable healthcare option for patients,” he said.

Rep. Estes also noted that while America’s rural hospitals are doing an exceptional job taking care of critical needs, many still find themselves disadvantaged when it comes to specialty care. “Making permanent some of the telehealth provisions that were expanded due to COVID-19 makes sense for those living in rural parts of our country,” he said.

Rep. Rice agreed, saying that the expansion of services “will help meet vital needs of those who rely on telehealth for their healthcare.”

Expanded telehealth access also will allow providers to continue delivering high-quality care despite office closures and extra precautions for high-risk patients, noted Rep. Walorski.

“We need to make these temporary waivers permanent so patients can have access to these innovative tools and resources beyond this crisis, and so our healthcare system is better prepared for future public health emergencies,” Rep. Walorski said.

And because of the “incredible strain” that COVID-19 has had on the U.S. healthcare system, Rep. LaHood said the discussion draft “lays out an important framework to continue bolstering critical telehealth services for patients and increase access to healthcare both now and after COVID.”

The discussion draft is being led by House Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX).