Long-term care stakeholders are looking forward to telehealth policies remaining a “very, very hot topic” in Congress during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and beyond. Service providers say they are optimistic lawmakers will act, but want to make sure they are properly reimbursed in the end.

“We achieved incredible advances in telehealth with the PHE,” said Cynthia Morton, executive vice president for the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care, while speaking Wednesday during the group’s 2021 Legislative & Regulatory Conference. 

“If there’s one silver lining so far with COVID, it is the ability to have telehealth,” she added. 

Providers are pushing Congress to make permanent telehealth waivers that were put in place during the pandemic. They expanded the number of providers who could perform and bill for telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries for the duration of the health crisis.

NASL has endorsed several pieces of legislation that would help make that possible: the Expanded Telehealth Access Act of 2021 (H.R. 2168), which was reintroduced in late March, and the CONNECT for Health Act of 202, which is expected to be reintroduced soon. 

The former would make permanent the telehealth reimbursement eligibility for physical therapists, audiologists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists. The latter would permanently remove geographic restrictions for telehealth services. 

“Telehealth [is] a very, very hot topic [with] multiple hearings on the issue,” she said. “We really think that it’s not a question of if they’ll do something on telehealth. We think they will.” 

Morton also noted that Trump administration officials had hinted that they would have liked to expand telehealth capabilities under Medicare. They suggested that it could be less costly for the program. 

“We know through our experience with telehealth, those of you that were able to deliver services via telehealth, in some instances it cost you more to deliver that service than what you were reimbursed,” Morton said. 

She stressed that stakeholders must get the message out that telehealth services are not “automatically cheaper” and ensure providers are reimbursed at the proper rate. 

“It’s not one-size-fits-all and we really have to have Congress and CMS understand that you can’t approach it that way,” she stressed.