January 31, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) is calling on Congressional leaders to protect vital telehealth expansions in upcoming legislation, as the nation continues to face serious health threats from the omicron resurgence nationwide. In a bipartisan, bicameral letter signed by 45 lawmakers, King and his colleagues stressed the importance of telehealth access for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic, and urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to extend these provisions until permanent telehealth expansion legislation can be passed. Provisions from the King-cosponsored CONNECT for Health Act were included in previous COVID-19 relief legislation to allow Medicare beneficiaries in all areas of the country to utilize telehealth services, but these provisions will expire following the pandemic unless Congressional leaders act to extend those measures or make them permanent.
“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that patients continue to receive the health care they need while keeping health care providers and patients safe. Congress recognized the importance of telehealth and included provisions in COVID-19 legislation to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Congressional Leadership. “We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February.”
In addition to Senator King, the letter was also signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Angus King (I-Maine), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), James Langevin (D-R.I.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Michael Guest (R-Miss.).
Representing one of the oldest and most rural states in the country, Senator King has been a fierce advocate for telehealth both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. King is a cosponsor of the Telehealth Modernization Act to update the restrictions that have long prevented the nation’s roughly 61 million Medicare beneficiaries from accessing lifesaving telehealth services, and the CONNECT for Health Act to expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors.
As co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator King has worked to make sure Americans have the internet connections they need to access services like telehealth. After Senator King’s advocacy and negotiation, President Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to invest $65 billion in broadband infrastructure across the nation. is in addition to securing $10 billion in funding for broadband in the American Rescue Plan, as well as more than $7 billion to close the digital divide for students nationwide. Together, these constitute the largest investment in broadband in the nation’s history.
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:
Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that patients continue to receive the health care they need while keeping health care providers and patients safe. Congress recognized the importance of telehealth and included provisions in COVID-19 legislation to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic. We strongly support permanently expanding Medicare coverage of telehealth and removing other barriers to the use of telehealth because of its ability to expand access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. While Congress prepares to enact permanent telehealth legislation, we urge you to include an extension of the pandemic telehealth authorities in must-pass government funding legislation in February.
An extension to maintain expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services for a set period of time would provide much-needed certainty to health care providers and patients. Ramping up telehealth requires significant costs and resources from health care providers. However, the pandemic telehealth authorities are temporary and tied to the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is renewed in three-month increments. Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth. An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term. It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly.
In addition, since the use of telehealth in Medicare was very low before the pandemic, an extension would provide additional time to collect and analyze data on the impacts of telehealth. This data could help inform Congress’s next steps on permanent telehealth legislation and appropriate program integrity and beneficiary protections. In the meantime, it is crucial that an extension not include unnecessary statutory barriers in accessing telehealth services during this data collection and analysis period.
Telehealth has become an essential part of the health care system. The permanent telehealth reforms included in the CONNECT for Health Act, which has bipartisan support from over 170 members of Congress, as well as other telehealth bills, are imperative to increase access to care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes. In February, Congress should extend the authorities that have expanded coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain access to telehealth and provide necessary certainty for Medicare telehealth coverage.
We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue.