June 22, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) introduced legislation to protect patients receiving care through telehealth services by shielding certain rural health clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in underserved communities from impending Medicare payments that could hinder their ability to care and treat patients in the middle of a pandemic. The Improving Telehealth for Underserved Communities Act would provide payment parity for telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic by fixing an unintentional problem created in the CARES Act; under current law, most RHCs and all FQHCs will owe money back to Medicare in July for each telehealth service provided during the public health emergency.
“Telehealth is a lifeline for older Americans – particularly in rural communities – and in light of the coronavirus pandemic, this importance and utilization of this technology is only growing,” said Senator King. “That’s why it is so critical that we adjust federal policies to help this vital medical tool continue to support the health of the American people. This legislation will offer major economic relief for healthcare providers who are following the best public health guidance to protect the health of patients and staff, so they can continue to put safety first.”
The CARES Act allowed RHCs and FQHCs to bill Medicare as distant site providers during the COVID-19 public health emergency. However, the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wants to recoup the cost difference between a new payment methodology and current Medicare reimbursement mechanisms for telehealth services. The CMS demand for these clawback payments would serve as a disincentive for clinics to treat patients using telehealth services in order to avoid revenue losses and added administrative paperwork burdens. To correct the problem, this new legislation would allow RHCs and FQHCs to provide and bill for telehealth visits using normal reimbursement mechanisms through the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Senator King has pushed to make sure America’s medical professionals and healthcare infrastructure have the tools they need to treat coronavirus patients and protect themselves. In recent days, he joined video calls to hear directly from the “Choose To Be Healthy Coalition” at York Hospital, and Northern Light Health. Earlier this month, he cosponsored legislation that would adjust a CMS loan program in order to reduce interest rates for healthcare providers struggling to manage the financial pressures created by the pandemic. He has cosponsored bipartisan legislation that would extend a lifeline to rural hospitals and providers and the 60 million Americans who depend on them for health care by providing immediate financial relief, stabilize hospitals, and encourage hospital coordination. Senator King joined the Maine delegation to take action to protect access to healthcare and preserve important economic drivers in rural Maine. He has also urged the FCC to expand access to telehealth services in rural communities, and joined a bipartisan group of Senators calling for telehealth expansions included in coronavirus relief legislation to be made permanent.