May 17, 2023

Manchin, Ernst, Shaheen, Moran Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Make Rural, Underserved Telehealth Flexibilities Permanent

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) reintroduced the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act. This bipartisan legislation would ensure rural and underserved community healthcare providers can permanently offer telehealth services, including audio-only telehealth appointments, that are set to expire in December 2024.

“Due to unreliable access to affordable broadband, many rural Americans— especially in West Virginia— greatly benefited from using audio-only telehealth appointments during the pandemic. Even though Congress has extended telehealth past the end of the public health emergency, our legislation would ensure rural patients can continue to receive critical care and providers can still be properly reimbursed for this service,” said Senator Manchin. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join this commonsense legislation to permanently expand telehealth access for all Americans and bridge the gap between patients and care.”

“Telehealth access has become a valuable tool for patients to reach their provider no matter where they choose to live. I’m working across the aisle to ensure Iowans continue to receive critical care and our hospitals have the infrastructure and flexibility they need to provide telehealth services on a permanent basis,” said Senator Joni Ernst.

“The expansion of telehealth services during the pandemic allowed Granite Staters to safely access the care they needed and was tremendously helpful to patients and providers in the most rural areas of our state,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m pleased to reintroduce this common-sense legislation with Senator Manchin to permanently expand these critical services and ensure that Medicare beneficiaries can take advantage of telehealth in all geographic regions of New Hampshire, and that audio-only services are available, especially for patients that lack broadband service. It is essential that vital telehealth services continue to be available to patients long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated that telehealth providers can provide effective and efficient access to care for patients, especially those in rural communities,” said Senator Moran. “Even after the extended emergency telehealth waivers expire, our health care system should bolster telehealth services as a reliable option to serve patients and help expand health care options and availability for rural America.”

The Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act would:

  1. Allow payment parity for audio-only health services for clinically appropriate appointments. During COVID-19, recognizing not everyone has access to the technology in their home, Congress made allowances for audio-only telephone services to be used to allow doctors to reach patients wherever they are.
  2. Permanently waive the geographic restriction allowing patients to be treated from their homes. Pre-COVID-19, the home was allowed as an eligible originating site in Medicare and some Medicaid programs, but only for very specific services, and only for the patient, not the provider.
  3. Permanently allow rural health clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers to serve as distance sites for providing telehealth services.
  4. Lift the restrictions on “store and forward” technologies for telehealth. Currently, this is only allowed in Hawaii and Alaska.
  5. Allow Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to directly bill for telehealth services.

Background information on the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act can be found here.

Bill text can be found here.