Congressmen Adrian Smith (R-NE), Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ), David B. McKinley (R-WV), and Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced the Protecting Telehealth Access Act this week. The bipartisan legislation ensures rural health providers will be able to continue operating and treating patients by making telehealth flexibilities implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent.
Roughly 60 million people--nearly one in five Americans--live in rural areas and depend on these rural health providers for care. Across the U.S., 136 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, with 20 closing in 2020 alone, a record year for closures. Rural Americans on average are older and have high rates of chronic health conditions.
"Rural health providers have effectively demonstrated how successful the current temporary telehealth authorizations can be in improving rural access to care," said Smith. "By making these rules permanent we can build on that success to further enhance health access in rural communities."
"Arizona's First Congressional District is rich in history, diversity of cultures, and stunning, sweeping landscapes, and is one of the most rural districts in the country," said O'Halleran. "Regulatory burdens loosened to accommodate COVID changes should be made permanent so rural residents can more easily and affordably access quality health care options including telehealth and audio-only telehealth. I'm proud to introduce this bipartisan bill."
The Protecting Telehealth Access Act would
* allow payment-parity for audio-only health services for qualifying appointments;
* permanently waive the geographic restriction allowing patients to be treated from their homes;
* permanently allow rural health clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to serve as distance sites for providing telehealth services; and
* allows Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to directly bill for telehealth services.