One of the few upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the rapid rise of telehealth. In the past, federal legislation has limited Medicare coverage for telehealth, but thanks to policy changes that temporarily waived Medicare limitations during the pandemic, providers have been able to treat seniors virtually like never before. This has been a game-changer for older Americans—and many other people who struggle to access quality care. The big question now is what will happen when this public health emergency ends.
An initiative is underway from bipartisan representatives to retain aspects of telehealth beyond the pandemic. The reintroduction of the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act of 2021 legislation (an earlier version proposed in July 2020 didn’t make it through last year’s Congress) proposes extending current Medicare coverage of certain telehealth services, including allowing patients to receive them at home.
The outcome of this bill will affect more than Medicare patients. Because if it passes, it will put pressure on private health insurers to keep their care convenient and accessible by offering telehealth to all members.
However, health insurers have a track record of pushing back against legislation that’s provider- and patient-friendly (think, mental health parity and the regulation of prior authorizations, so it seems unlikely that they’ll sit idly by on this measure. We’ll keep you posted as the future of virtual visits unfolds.