O’Halleran, Smith and Armstrong Seek to Extend Telehealth Flexibilities for Rural Health Care Providers
Reps. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., introduced legislation on May 24 to enable rural health providers to continue operating and treating patients by extending telehealth flexibilities implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Connecting Rural Telehealth to the Future Act would extend pandemic-era flexibilities for another two years.
According to the bill, this means that all temporary telehealth provisions included in the FY22 omnibus would be extended through Dec. 31, 2024.
This includes audio-only technologies for managing patient health and providing behavioral health services, and extending allowance for critical access hospitals to directly bill for telehealth services.
The bill would also restore rural health clinic and federally qualified health clinic reimbursements for telehealth services to their normal reimbursement methods.
On Jan. 31, 2020, former Health Secretary Alex M. Azar declared the COVID-19 public health emergency and indicated that declaration could only be extended for 90 days at a time.
The Department of Health and Human Services renewed the declaration set to end on July 15 to October. HHS advised that it would give states a 60-day notice before ending the declaration.
Smith said in a written statement that the legislation will give providers and patients certainty on what telehealth flexibilities are still authorized during the PHE, while, “Congress works to permanently make telehealth services an option for Americans everywhere.”
Nearly one in five Americans live in rural areas, with 138 rural hospital closures since 2010. Twenty closures occurred in 2020, according to data from the Cecil Sheps Center for Health Services Research.
Alexa can be reached at [email protected]