Gardner, bipartisan group of colleagues seek details on any telehealth policy changes

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and a bipartisan contingent of 37 of his U.S. Senate colleagues requested that federal health agencies keep them in the loop regarding any policy changes planned for the expansion of telehealth services under Medicare.

The senators requested that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provide them with a written plan and timeline for permanent administrative changes to Medicare rules governing the provision of telehealth, as well as a list of telehealth changes that will require congressional action.

“Telehealth would not have been as critical of a lifeline during the pandemic without action from Congress in collaboration with the administration,” wrote Sen. Gardner and his colleagues in a July 2 letter sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Congress, through coronavirus relief packages, provided HHS with the authority to waive telehealth requirements for the length of the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

The lawmakers noted they have heard from patients and providers who are concerned about when Medicare’s temporary changes to telehealth rules will be scaled back and whether they will receive any advance notice. “Patients are anxious about when private payers will change rates for telehealth services and if they will decide to rescind telehealth coverage altogether,” Sen. Gardner and his colleagues wrote.

The senators also think that telehealth is an important tool for enhancing patient care and can provide efficiency in healthcare delivery. “While telehealth may not be able to replace all in-person care, we believe it should continue to be an option to meet individual care needs” now and after the pandemic is under control, according to their letter.

Sen. Gardner and his colleagues also encouraged them to consider how permanent changes to telehealth policy might be part of a broader movement, including a shift toward value-based care.

Among the members who joined Sen. Gardner in signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Todd Young (R-IN), Steve Daines (R-MT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Tina Smith (D-MN).