A bevy of bills recently introduced in both the Senate and the House aim to help increase access to telehealth services, and establish a $50 million virtual health pilot program within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

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Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., introduced a package of bills that would raise reimbursement levels for health care professionals conducting virtual visits, end a regulation that limits telehealth service access, and improve rural telehealth access.

“Telehealth services help Louisiana patients who aren’t always able to make a trip to the doctor. My legislation would support telehealth providers and the people they care for, especially when those Louisianans live in rural areas,” said Sen. Kennedy.

The four bills introduced by Sen. Kennedy are:

  • The Audio-Only Telehealth for Emergencies Act: legislation that would allow all physicians to receive the same compensation for audio-only telehealth visits as they would for in-person appointments during a public health emergency or major disaster declaration;
  • The Telehealth Health Savings Account Act: a bill that allows employers to offer high-deductible health plans that include telehealth services without limiting employees’ ability to use health savings accounts. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act temporarily waived this directive, but this legislation would make the waiver permanent. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate in 2020;
  • The Enhance Access to Support Essential Behavioral Health Services Act: a bill that would allow mental health professionals providing telehealth services through Medicare and Medicaid to be reimbursed at the same levels as mental health professionals conducting in-person visits. Similar legislation was introduced in the House in 2019; and
  • The Increasing Rural Telehealth Access Act: legislation that would expand healthcare access by improving remote patient monitoring technology for individuals in rural areas.

In both the House and Senate, companion legislation was introduced by Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., and Sen. Kennedy to establish the $50 million pilot program.

The Rural Remote Monitoring Patient Act introduced in the House would have Congress authorize $50 million to “create a pilot program within [HRSA] … to facilitate the use of remote patient monitoring technology in rural areas.” The measure has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Families in rural Arizona must often travel hundreds of miles to access even basic health care,” said Rep. O’Halleran. “Investing in remote patient monitoring technology in rural areas will allow more patients to remain comfortably at home with their support systems while staying in contact with the doctors and medical staff that monitor their care.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.