WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate telehealth working group, urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to make pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities – which expanded access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries – permanent before they expire at the end of the year. Thune also joined his colleagues in reintroducing the Telemental Health Care Access Act, which would remove barriers to telemental health services for Medicare beneficiaries.
“South Dakotans have long understood the value of telehealth,” said Thune. “I will continue to propose and support efforts to help strengthen telehealth and expand mental health services for Medicare beneficiaries. South Dakotans, especially those in the most rural parts of our state, must have equal access to these critical services.”
Thune has long advocated for the use of telehealth as a means to increase access to health care services in rural communities. He previously authored the e-TREAT Act, which was signed into law in 2018 and increased access to substance use disorder treatment through telehealth technology in Medicare. Thune has also led efforts to expand access to telehealth by introducing the CONNECT for Health Act, which would permanently give beneficiaries the ability to access telehealth services in Medicare.
Full letter below:
Dear Secretary Becerra:
As 2024 begins, we urge you to work with Congress to ensure that all Medicare beneficiaries have permanent access to telehealth services before the temporary waivers expire on December 31, 2024. We appreciate the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) efforts to implement telehealth flexibilities that Congress authorized over the past four years. With the expiration of temporary waivers rapidly approaching, we strongly encourage you to make telehealth a priority. We stand ready to work with you to ensure Medicare beneficiaries maintain access to telehealth services.
Congress has recognized the critical role of telehealth in health care delivery by expanding coverage during and after the COVID-19 public health emergency. Most recently, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 extended several Medicare telehealth flexibilities through December 31, 2024. Among these was a provision allowing patients to use telehealth regardless of where they are located. These short-term extensions have been important to allow continuity of care and provide time for experts to evaluate the benefits of expanded telehealth services. The data is clear: Permanent policy is necessary, such as the policies in our consensus bipartisan bill, the CONNECT for Health Act.
Enacting permanent telehealth legislation will require collaboration between HHS and Congress in the year ahead. We urge you to communicate to Congress and the public the authorities, appropriations, resources, and other supports needed to achieve this goal. Ideal channels for these communications include the President’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget, the Calendar Year (CY) 2025 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule, and upcoming testimonies before Congressional committees. We also request timely technical assistance and data sharing to support Congress’ legislative work. To address any outstanding implementation questions related to permanent policy, including those outlined in the CY 2024 Physician Fee Schedule, we strongly encourage you to solicit information from stakeholders.
This is a pivotal year for telehealth policy, and it is critical that we enact long-term legislation in 2024. Telehealth is a cost-effective way to improve access to care, especially for rural and underserved communities. Telehealth also allows patients to choose a medical provider that best suits their personal medical needs. Medicare beneficiaries have come to rely on expanded access to telehealth and are satisfied with the care they have received. We must provide patients and clinicians long-term certainty about access to care through telehealth. We appreciate your collaboration on this important issue and look forward to working with you to ensure access to telehealth services is available on a permanent basis.Sincerely,