Make Expanded Telehealth Access in CARES Act Permanent, Tester Urges Senate

Telehealth access improves health outcomes, saves patients time and money

After leading the charge to expand access to telehealth in response to the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is now urging the Senate to make those expansions permanent.

In a letter to Senate leadership, Tester and a bipartisan group of his colleagues wrote that telehealth increases access to health care, and leads to better health outcomes while saving patients time and money.

“Telehealth has proven to be pivotal for many patients during the current pandemic, ensuring they receive the care they need while reducing the risk of infection and the further spread of COVID-19,” Tester and his colleagues wrote. “We have all heard from our constituents about how effective and convenient it is. Expanded Medicare coverage of telehealth services on a permanent basis—where clinically appropriate and with appropriate guardrails and beneficiary protections in place—would ensure that telehealth continues to be an option for all Medicare beneficiaries after the pandemic ends.”

Tester worked to make sure the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act contained provisions to expand telehealth across the country to help patients – especially veterans and those living in rural areas – access telehealth services. Provisions of Tester’s CONNECT for Health Act were included in the CARES Act to expand coverage for telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries, including by allowing federally-qualified health centers and rural health clinics to bill as a distant site for telehealth services and allowing a telehealth consultation to replace the face-to-face visit to recertify a patient’s eligibility for hospice care.

“Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability,” the Senators continued. “Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic. Doing so would assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends. It would also provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment.”

Tester has fought tirelessly to expand access to telehealth services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. He recently secured nearly $300,000 in CARES Act funds for telehealth programs in Montana, and called for audio-only telehealth reimbursements to level the playing field for seniors and others without reliable broadband access during the coronavirus outbreak. He also urged the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand critical telemental health services for veterans and successfully secured $2.15 billion to bolster telehealth capabilities through increased telework and call center capabilities in the CARES Act.

Tester’s letter is available HERE.

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