Amazon and Walmart join vendors in pushing Senate to expand telehealth policies

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Major health disruptors Amazon and Walmart have joined a chorus of hospitals, provider groups and telehealth organizations to lobby the US Senate to expand telehealth flexibilities, such as removing in-person requirements for virtual behavioral health and increasing access to virtual health in the commercial market.

As it stands, these policies – which were adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – are due to expire 151 days after the end of the public health emergency. The PHE is currently scheduled to end in October, although health officials expect the Biden administration to extend the PHE at that time, according to Politics.

Other current telehealth flexibilities include provisions to waive provider and patient location limitations, and facilitate access to clinically appropriate controlled substances without in-person requirements.

In the joint letter to the Senate leadership, more than 370 organizations said the short-term nature of the temporary policies adds uncertainty to the health care system.

“Providers must weigh the costs of investing in the technology and clinical infrastructure needed to sustain telehealth programs at scale against the uncertainty of when such telehealth policies might end,” the groups wrote. . “Additionally, patients who use telehealth as part of their care plan face the possibility of a forced return to in-person care.”

They said this is of particular concern for anyone using virtual care to reach experts over longer distances, as well as those receiving ongoing remote care for chronic conditions.

Other signatories to the letter include the American Telemedicine Association, Consumer Technology Association, Connected Health Initiative, Alliance for Connected Care and HIMSS. HIMSS is the parent company of Healthcare Finance News.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT

In calling for a two-year extension of telehealth flexibilities, the organizations behind the letter argued that virtual care is now a fundamental part of the U.S. healthcare system — one that both improves the access and continuity of care.

“While many of the most compelling clinical use cases for virtual care are only emerging now, more communities than ever have experienced the powerful impact of telehealth in closing gaps in care,” reads the statement. letter. “Telehealth helps address mental health, primary care, and other workforce shortages in crisis situations.”

Historically underserved communities are now receiving additional support, the organizations added. But without “statutory certainty”, they said, the work of building infrastructure, trust and relationships with communities begins to stagnate.

The letter advocates passage of the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act, which passed the House by a vote of 416 to 12, and said Congress should continue to push for a permanent extension.

THE GREAT TREND

The current PHE, signed on July 15, will end in mid-October. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has promised to give providers 60 days notice before announcing the end of the public health emergency.

The advisory gives hospitals and other providers time to prepare for the end of waivers and other flexibilities put in place during COVID-19.

The Consolidated Finance Act of 2021 expanded access to telehealth services for the diagnosis, assessment or treatment of mental health disorders after the end of PHE.

The Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act, which passed the House in July, would allow federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics to serve as a remote site or healthcare professional location; this would allow beneficiaries to receive telehealth services at any site, regardless of type or location; it would allow any type of practitioner to provide telehealth services, subject to approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and it would continue to cover audio-only and behavioral health assessment and management services.

Despite the benefits of telehealth, there are also frustrations, according to a study recently published by UnitedHealth Group. The survey of 240 healthcare providers showed that a majority (69%) find telehealth convenient, but 28% described virtual care as frustrating.

While these descriptors may seem contradictory, providers clarified their thinking, with 58% saying they were frustrated with the quality of care they can provide via virtual platforms, and 55% saying they have to manage patient expectations for virtual tours. Half of the respondents were unhappy with the technicalities of navigating telehealth.

Telehealth continues to enjoy great popularity among patients, although its appeal has faded somewhat. A December 2021 Rock Health survey found that in 2020, 53% of respondents were more satisfied with live video virtual care than in-person interactions. However, this satisfaction has decreased somewhat in 2021, with only 43% of respondents saying the same.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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