AHA Expresses Support for the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act (S.1988)

July 9, 2021

The Honorable Joe Manchin                            The Honorable Joni Ernst
United States Senate                                       United States Senate
306 Hart Senate Office Building                       730 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510                                    Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Jeanne Shaheen                     The Honorable Jerry Moran
United States Senate                                        United States Senate
506 Hart Senate Office Building                        521 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510                                     Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senators Manchin, Ernst, Shaheen and Moran:

On behalf of our nearly 5,000 member hospitals, health systems and other health care organizations, our clinician partners – including more than 270,000 affiliated physicians, 2 million nurses and other caregivers – and the 43,000 health care leaders who belong to our professional membership groups, the American Hospital Association (AHA) writes in support of the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act (S.1988).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has provided a critical way for patients to continue to access needed care. We appreciate the introduction of this bill, which proposes to make permanent several telehealth flexibilities provided under the current Public Health Emergency.

We support the provision in the legislation that would expand the list of permissible originating sites, allowing patients to access telehealth services from their homes. However, we urge you to further expand originating sites to any location in which a patient receives a telehealth service.

This legislation would also remove restrictions on store and forward technologies that are currently only allowed in Alaska and Hawaii. We also strongly support and appreciate the inclusion of provisions to authorize audio-only services and pay for them at rates equal to payment for audio/visual services. The flexibility to provide audio-only services has enabled hospitals and health systems to maintain access to care for numerous patients who do not have access to broadband or video conferencing technology.

In addition, the AHA supports allowing rural health clinics (RHCs) and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to serve as distant sites, so that these facilities may use the providers at their own sites to offer care to patients, ensuring patients remain connected to their primary providers. These sites are important partners to hospitals, particularly in rural and underserved areas. The AHA supports allowing critical access hospitals the same ability to offer and bill for telehealth services.

Finally, as Congress continues to consider meaningful ways to improve the promise of telehealth, we want to emphasize that current Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services does not provide adequate support to all sites of care. For providers to be able to continue delivering high-quality patient care through telehealth and other virtual services, they need appropriate reimbursement for the substantial upfront and ongoing costs of establishing and maintaining their virtual infrastructure. We urge Congress to work with CMS to ensure the ability of providers to deliver high-quality care and improved patient outcomes.

We appreciate your leadership on this important issue and look forward to working together to ensure passage of the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act.

Sincerely,

/s/

Stacey Hughes
Executive Vice President
Government Relations and Public Policy

 

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