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Bilirakis Leads Bipartisan Legislation to Expand Telehealth Services for Seniors During COVID-19 Pandemic

March 24, 2021
Press Release

Bilirakis Leads Bipartisan Legislation to Expand Telehealth Services for Seniors During COVID-19 Pandemic

 

Washington, D.C. – Earlier today, U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Tony Cárdenas  (CA-29), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Ron Kind (WI-03), Jason Smith (MO-08), and Jackie Walorski (IN-02) introduced the Ensuring Parity in MA and PACE for Audio-Only Telehealth Act, bipartisan legislation to help ensure Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollees who cannot access the video component during telehealth visits are able to access care through audio visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

As we recover from COVID-19, we must ensure vulnerable patients, especially our seniors and those managing chronic conditions, are able to safely and conveniently access the appropriate care management and related services they need. To do this, we need to empower patients and their providers with more, not less, options to accurately, safely, and conveniently capture patient health statuses,” said Rep. Bilirakis.

 

In order to help facilitate the use of telehealth among MA patients, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided flexibility to allow health care providers to offer telehealth services under MA plans. However, this guidance requires that the encounters include a video component, which is not an option for many patients. Low-income and rural patients for example, may have trouble accessing technology or broadband services supporting video communications. Additionally, seniors or at-risk populations may have physical limitations that prevent them from using video communications. For these patients, an audio-only telehealth visit may be the only option besides foregoing needed care.

 

The Ensuring Parity in MA and PACE for Audio-Only Telehealth Act will allow providers to offer audio-only telehealth services to MA enrollees, providing them with the resources necessary to adequately care for their patients.  Additionally, this legislation ensures that providers will be adequately compensated by requiring MA plans to reimburse them for audio-only telehealth visits as if they were in person visits unless both parties have agreed to a separate payment policy.

 

“More than one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States, the public health and economic crisis continue to disproportionately impact our rural and underserved communities. It is critically important we expand telehealth services, particularly to those in our rural areas, to reduce the risk of exposure and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Rep. Sewell. “I am proud to introduce the Ensuring Parity in MA and PACE for Audio-Only Telehealth Act, which will allow those enrolled in Medicare Advantage to access audio as well as video telehealth services. This will ensure that patients are not forced to forego critical care during the pandemic, as many of our seniors live in rural areas without access to broadband speeds that support video connections.”

 

“The ability to provide care remotely has been key to keeping PACE enrollees and PACE staff safe during the pandemic,” said National PACE Association President and CEO Shawn Bloom.  “The ability to submit diagnoses obtained through audio-only encounters during our national health emergency is key to ensuring providers are paid adequately.” 

 

“Telehealth delivered by phone has been a lifeline to many seniors and people with disabilities throughout the COVID-19 crisis, either because they don’t have Internet access or because they don’t have or aren’t comfortable with video technology. This bill will ensure that Medicare enrollees are not left behind, whether they live in rural or urban settings. We applaud these Representatives for introducing this important legislation to improve health equity and ensure America’s seniors and people with disabilities have access to the care they need, when they need it, in a way that is safe and convenient for them,” said America's Health Insurance Plans’ CEO Matt Eyles.