March 22, 2022
Congress recently passed and President Biden signed a $1.5 trillion omnibus appropriations spending deal (HR 2471) to fund federal agencies and programs for the remainder of fiscal year 2022. Health care programs were increased by 7.7% for a total of $214 billion. In a significant move, Congress extended the current COVID-19 pandemic telehealth waivers for five months beyond the end of the Public Health Emergency (PHE).
If the current trends continue, some expect the PHE to be lifted in the summer of 2022 and therefore, the waivers would be in effect until December 2022. However, given the strong bipartisan support for the telehealth waivers, Congress is expected to continue the extension well into the future.
While the California Medical Association (CMA) advocated to make the COVID-19 telehealth waivers permanent, this extension is a significant win. Specifically, the legislation:
- Continues payment parity for telehealth services
- Removes the geographic restrictions for telehealth services
- Expands the originating sites to anywhere a patient is located at the time of the telehealth service, including home
- Expands the practitioners eligible to furnish telehealth services, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists.
- Extends telehealth services waiver for Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics
- Allows all extensions for telehealth to include audio-only telehealth services.
- In previous legislation, Congress permanently provided telehealth waivers for mental health services but some in-person visits were still required. Those in-person requirements were delayed.
- Allows the use of telehealth to conduct face-to-face encounters prior to eligibility recertification for hospice care
In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) extended through the end of 2023 the expanded list of services authorized for telehealth.
For more details on the federal spending package as it relates to health care, see CMA’s summary.