Finally, a piece of good news! If you’re a fan of telehealth as an alternative care delivery method for your patients, the technology’s pandemic-era coverage flexibilities may soon be extended through 2024.
Last week, the House voted 416–12 to pass the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2021 (HR 4040). Though the bill now goes to the Senate for approval, its strong bi-partisan support in the House is a good sign that it may soon become law.
Since the pandemic required in-person visit restrictions that largely blocked patient access to care, Congress in March 2020 passed legislation to expand the use of telehealth to those using Medicare. Though Congress also passed an omnibus spending bill in March 2022 to extend telehealth flexibilities, it only extended coverage for five months after the public health emergency (PHE) is allowed to expire.
What does HR 4040 cover?
HR 4040 ensures that healthcare practices and providers can continue to have broader telehealth flexibilities and coverage through Dec. 31, 2024.
More specifically, the bill is intended to accomplish the following:
- Increase the number of geographic locations from where Medicare beneficiaries can receive telehealth services.
- Increase the number of virtual care services that can be offered by physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and others.
- Extend Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services provided by federally qualified health centers and rural health centers.
- Allow virtual mental health services for up to six months without an in-person visit.
- Extend the flexibilities related to the coverage of audio-only telehealth visits.
Does HR 4040 go far enough?
Some Congressional representatives who supported the bill felt it should have gone a step further. They wanted a more permanent solution for Medicare providers and their patients.
"We do need to provide a permanent solution for Medicare providers and, most importantly, their patients. It is important that providers are given long-term certainty when taking care of their Medicare patients and are technologically capable of delivering the best care possible," Rep. Michael Burgess, MD, R-Texas, said.
How can telehealth continue to be an asset to your practice?
Telehealth is a versatile care delivery option that helps you provide quality care to your patients while helping you keep down costs and fill your schedule. Consider the following advantages:
- Overcome barriers to care: Barriers of distance and transportation can be deal breakers to some patients to receiving care. Telehealth levels the playing field so that they can access care without the expense and inconvenience of traveling for in-person appointments. You’re able to schedule more appointments and help reduce gaps in care that lead to poorer outcomes.
- Offer hybrid care: Based on a patient’s needs and appointment type, many practices are offering a combination of in-office and telehealth care to deliver care. Simple check-ins and progress updates may only call for a telehealth visit. Save time and money by taking a more sensible approach to increased care delivery options made possible by hybrid care approaches.
- Preventive care and chronic disease management: Though many preventive care and chronic disease management screenings, tests, exams need to be conducted in the office, not every appointment needs to happen in the office. You can use telehealth as a way to regularly check up on patients, conduct follow-up visits, get status updates, and answer questions when appropriate through a virtual visit. In some instances, even an audio-only telehealth visit may be sufficient to ensure the patient adheres to care instructions to manage their condition.
- Patients love it: In an era of more consumer-centric care, telehealth is a service that has widespread appeal with patients due to the ease and convenience of seeing a care provider from the comfort of their home. Sixty-two percent of patients recently said they preferred telehealth visits to in-office visits if an in-office appointment isn’t necessary. Patients also said virtual care saved them both time it takes for a visit and transportation expenses. Half of patients want telehealth to continue to be a post-pandemic option.
- Cut costs and increase revenue: Multiple studies have shown that telehealth appointments can help reduce operation costs while increasing the revenue you take in. Telehealth appointments typically take less time than in-office visits and one study found that telehealth visits cost approximately $24 less per patient. And since telehealth visits tend to be shorter in length than in-office visits, you can book more virtual appointment slots during a given time period than you can do traditional in-person visits. While telehealth doesn’t make sense for every visit and appointment type, when used appropriately it can help you see more patients and reduce expenses.
HR 4040 may soon lend the weight of more governmental support to telehealth as a care delivery option for your practice well into the future. In short, the technology’s greater coverage can give you and your patients more options to connect more easily for any number of appointment types and care possibilities. That, in turn, can open up greater opportunities to help you increase appointment volume, provide better care access to patients, and help your practice appeal to a wider spectrum of patients.
To learn more best practices about how to leverage telehealth technology to see more patients and grow your practice, download the guide, “A Complete Guide to Using Telemedicine in Your Practice.”