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Thompson, Butterfield Introduce Legislation Codifying Payment for Certain Telehealth Services

July 16, 2021
Press Release

HOWARD, PA — Today, Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-15) and G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) introduced the bipartisan Helping Ensure Access to Local TeleHealth, or the HEALTH Act, which codifies Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services rendered by community health centers and rural health clinics. The bill also allows these health facilities to continue to utilize audio-only telehealth visits for patients who do not have access to quality broadband.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has added tremendous reach and value to communities across the country, especially in rural America. The HEALTH Act builds upon previously enacted provisions in the COVID-19 relief packages and provides access to vital health care services to more seniors, regardless of their geographic location.

"As a former healthcare professional, who spent nearly 30 years serving rural populations, I am amazed at how telehealth services make life simpler for rural and underserved communities— and in particular older Americans," said Rep. Thompson. "Continued use and promotion of these services will improve health equity by increasing access to care for our most vulnerable. The HEALTH Act cuts red tape and permanently allows community health centers and rural health clinics to furnish telehealth services to their patients."

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that access to telehealth at community health centers has become more than just a convenience, but rather a critical necessity in America,” said Rep. Butterfield. “All patients, particularly our Medicare recipients, are in need of a solution to ensure access to telehealth services are free from undue barriers and restrictions. That is why I am proud to join Congressman GT Thompson in introducing this vital legislation to ensure vulnerable Medicare patients will be able to access necessary telehealth services at community health centers beyond the pandemic."

“On behalf of Community Health Centers and the 30 million patients we serve, I thank Representatives Glenn Thompson and G. K. Butterfield for their leadership by introducing the HEALTH Act,” said Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC).  “Telehealth has been a lifeline for our health centers during the pandemic, especially for our rural, elderly, behavioral health, and homebound patients.  The HEALTH Act will ensure that health centers are able to continue delivering quality care to Medicare beneficiaries via telehealth beyond the Public Health Emergency. Continuing coverage of audio-only and audio-visual appointments, providing payment reimbursement parity to an in-person visit, and allowing patients and providers to receive and give care regardless of their location are all vital provisions that should be adopted. NACHC encourages swift passage of the HEALTH Act before millions of health center patients lose access to critical telehealth services.”

“As we look to extend Medicare’s coverage of telehealth beyond the public health emergency, it is imperative that we have fair and sufficient reimbursement for rural health clinics,” said Nathan Baugh, Director of Government Affairs for the National Association of Rural Health Clinics. “The temporary telehealth policy instituted by the CARES Act was a step forward, but reforms must be made for safety-net providers if we want to unlock the full potential of telehealth for underserved communities. That is why the HEALTH Act is so critical for the long-term success of telehealth in rural America.”

“As the nation’s largest network of primary care providers, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and Rural Health Clinics (RHC) provide a wide array of services in underserved areas of the country, both rural and urban," said Cheri Rinehart, President and CEO of Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers (PACHC). "The ability to use telehealth throughout the pandemic has clearly demonstrated how vital telehealth is in improving health equity by increasing access to care for the vulnerable populations FQHCs serve and boosting clinical outcomes. Telehealth must remain an available service to ensure continued access to critical health care services.”
 
"As part of our mission, community health centers collaborate with our medically underserved patients to overcome their obstacles to health," said Chris Shank, CEO & President, North Carolina Community Health Center Association. "The ability to sustain telehealth services is critical to this mission, as connecting patients virtually to their community health center removes barriers to care like limited transportation access, which disproportionately affects patients with lower incomes and those living in rural communities. North Carolina’s community health centers applaud Reps. Butterfield and Thompson for introducing the HEALTH Act.”

“Keystone Rural Health Consortia, Inc greatly appreciates Rep. Glenn Thompson’s efforts in reintroducing his HEALTH Act to Congress in support of FQHCs’ and RHCs’ ability to permanently provide and bill for telehealth services under Medicare," said Kristie Bennardi, CEO and CFO of Keystone Rural Health Consortia, Inc.  “His continued support of rural areas and community health centers has been critical to ensuring access to care for those faced with transportation barriers, especially our Medicare population. Telehealth services are a critical piece in providing care for elderly Pennsylvanians.”
 
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