Rep. Harshbarger Introduces Expanded Telehealth Access Act

Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn., introduced the Expanded Telehealth Access Act, a bipartisan bill which will make permanent Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services waivers that allow for all Medicare-eligible healthcare providers to furnish telehealth services to patients.

During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, CMS waived requirements that specify the types of healthcare providers that are eligible to bill telehealth services to Medicare, with waivers expiring at the end of 2024 following an extension by Congress.

This legislation would build upon the foundation of these waivers, expanding the range of healthcare providers that may provide telehealth services to Medicare patients, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and any additional provider participating in Medicare that furnishes a telehealth service.

Telehealth services have proven to be vital to healthcare delivery to patients in rural and underserved communities, many of whom are unable to easily access healthcare providers.

“The rapid adoption of telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries during the Covid pandemic enabled patients to continue therapy and other treatments they otherwise might not have access to,” said Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger. “It is critical that Congress acts to allow seniors to continue such services permanently after special waivers expire in 2024. This is especially important for people living in rural and underserved areas, where a trip to seek specific treatments may entail a long journey. The Expanded Telehealth Access Act will enable seniors to continue receiving quality, accessible care, delivered in the most efficient way possible.”

The Bipartisan Expanded Telehealth Access Act has bipartisan support, with Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) co-introducing the legislation.

The legislation is also backed by healthcare advocacy organizations such as the American Occupational Therapy Association and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

“Occupational therapy has long recognized the critical role the environment plays in health and wellness, including the virtual environment. Waivers issued by CMS authorizing occupational therapy professionals to provide services to Medicare beneficiaries via telehealth illuminated the substantial impact occupational therapy can provide through the virtual environment. Not only did the waivers provide an opportunity for Medicare beneficiaries to receive effective occupational therapy intervention in new environments, but occupational therapy was able to actualize the use of telehealth to reduce or remove barriers to care,” said Alyson Stover, MOT, JD, OTR/L, BCP, President, American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). “AOTA champions the bi-partisan efforts of Representatives Sherrill and Harshbarger to ensure that the provision of occupational therapy delivered via telehealth will remain an option for Medicare beneficiaries on a permanent basis.”

“The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association applauds Representatives Sherrill and Harshbarger for reintroducing this critical legislation, and for their continued efforts to ensure that America’s seniors maintain robust access to needed audiology and speech-language pathology care for hearing, balance, speech and language, swallowing, and cognitive-communication disorders through telehealth services,” said 2023 ASHA President Robert M. Augustine, PhD, CCC-SLP.

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