Ernst Helps Lead Bipartisan Effort to Increase Access to Telehealth in Rural Areas

The bill makes permanent current telehealth flexibilities that have been put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is working with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on a bipartisan effort to continue and expand access to telehealth for Iowans in rural areas. The bill makes current telehealth flexibilities that have been put in place due to the pandemic permanent—allowing rural providers to build out their infrastructure without having to worry about telehealth flexibilities only being temporary.
 
“Even before the pandemic, access to telehealth was critical to helping Iowans in rural areas get the care they need. That’s why I prioritized working with Democrats and Republicans to expand access to these services during this difficult year. Now that we’ve seen its success, there’s no reason we shouldn’t make these changes permanent to continue supporting both our rural patients and hospitals,” said Senator Ernst.
 
“In rural areas across the United States – especially in West Virginia – many Americans don’t have access to reliable, affordable broadband, which is essential for video telehealth services. Instead, many rural Americans utilize audio-only telehealth appointments, which are now equally reimbursed after I fought to ensure that our healthcare professionals are reimbursed fairly for their hard work,” said Senator Manchin. “When we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic, we immediately recognized the importance of making these telehealth flexibilities permanent. Our bill ensures that rural telehealth providers can give rural Americans the quality care they deserve by eliminating restrictions on the use of telehealth options and ensuring doctors can be reimbursed for services they provide to patients from the comfort of their homes. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join this commonsense legislation to permanently expand telehealth access for all Americans, no matter where they live in our great nation.”
 
Background:
The COVID-19 pandemic has put further financial pressure on rural hospitals. Thanks to the bipartisan relief bill, the CARES Act, telehealth expansion has been critical to supporting rural patients and hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth has allowed health providers to continue to reach patients at their home for medical check-ups and screenings, without patients having to travel hours to receive care.
 
The Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act would:
  • Permanently waive the geographic restriction allowing patients to be treated from their homes
  • Allow Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to directly bill for telehealth services and allow them to be paid according to the payment methodology they have already selected.
  • Permanently allow Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to serve as distant sites.
  • Express the sense of Congress in support for maintaining waivers that have been issued under the public health emergency.
  • Allow payment-parity for audio-only health services for clinically appropriate appointments.
 
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