In a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) urged the Biden Administration to provide certainty for telehealth access heading into 2022. Specifically, the ATA is calling for Secretary Becerra to indicate the expected duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) and recommends the PHE and its flexibilities continue at least through the end of the calendar year 2022.
“The ATA appreciates Secretary Becerra’s leadership to ensure access to telehealth during the public health emergency by implementing flexibilities that have allowed clinicians across the country to provide all Americans high-quality virtual care at a time of great need,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the ATA. “These sustained flexibilities have helped usher in a true health system transformation. Unfortunately, this progress is in jeopardy. Medicare beneficiaries will abruptly lose access to nearly all recently expanded coverage of telehealth when the COVID-19 PHE ends without action from Congress.”
Without Congressional action, access to care will continue to depend entirely on the existence of the HHS-declared public health emergency. In January 2021, under President Biden’s leadership, Acting Secretary Norris Cochran wrote to governors across the nation promising predictability and stability, indicating the PHE declaration would likely remain in effect through 2021. “This was a simple action but proved to be hugely beneficial to state and local leaders, federal policymakers, providers, and patients who all relied on a sense of certainty that PHE policies—including those for telehealth—would not be taken away without warning,” Mond Johnson added.
“Patients and providers know the ‘telehealth cliff’ is coming with the end of the PHE should Congress fail to act in time. However, a significant amount of uncertainty surrounds the question of when the PHE will actually expire,” Mond Johnson said. “We recognize there are many unknowns related to the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic over the next 12 to 24 months. However, we implore Secretary Becerra to provide as much predictability and certainty as possible to ensure adequate warning before patients are pushed over this looming cliff.”
The ATA recently applauded the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for their proposal in the annual Physician Fee Schedule to ensure Category 3 telehealth services—those services added temporarily during the duration of the PHE—will continue to be eligible for coverage and reimbursement through the end of 2023, regardless of the PHE declaration. By assuring providers and patients that these services will remain available through 2023, CMS is using sound judgement to offer predictability to millions of Americans who are concerned about care options. The ATA believes this CMS action sets an HHS precedent, recognizing the need for temporary flexibilities to remain through 2023. HHS should apply the same logic to the PHE by offering assurances that the declaration will likely continue through at least 2022.