Reps. Jason Smith, Mayra Flores Introduce Bill to Protect Seniors’ Access to Critical Telehealth Services
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Jason Smith (Mo.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Mayra Flores (Texas) announced that they have introduced legislation that would require Medicare to permanently cover audio-only telehealth services for beneficiaries. The legislation would help ensure Medicare recipients who cannot access the video component during telehealth visits are able to access care through audio-only.
“The pandemic has shown just how invaluable audio-only telehealth services are for patients who live in rural or underserved communities,” said Smith. “With this innovative and convenient method of health care delivery, hardworking seniors are able to get the quality care they need without having to travel long distances, even when they don’t have access to the internet. I’m proud to join U.S. Representative Mayra Flores on this important effort to protect seniors’ access to critical, and often lifesaving, audio-only telehealth services.”
“This bill is crucial in ensuring expanded healthcare access in my district and across the country,” said Flores. “If enacted, it would also significantly increase access for those in rural settings and those who primarily speak Spanish or languages other than English— anywhere cellphone reception is available.”
In order to help facilitate the use of telehealth among Medicare patients, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) allowed health care providers to offer audio-only telehealth services under Medicare and Medicaid plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a lifeline to low-income and rural patients who, for example, may have trouble accessing technology or broadband services supporting video communications. Additionally, seniors or at-risk populations may have physical limitations that prevent them from using video communications. For these patients, an audio-only telehealth visit may be the only option besides foregoing needed care.
Unfortunately, these telehealth flexibilities are slated to expire only about 5 months after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Smith and Flores’ legislation would allow providers to offer quality, lifesaving audio-only telehealth services to Medicare patients on a permanent basis.Additionally, the bill maintains current audio-only policies, including waiving geographic and originating site restrictions to allow Medicare beneficiaries’ homes to be telehealth originating sites for audio-only telehealth services. This would ensure that seniors in rural areas have the freedom to receive their preferred form of telehealth from home.