Shaheen, Manchin, Ernst & Moran Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill Making Rural, Underserved Telehealth Flexibilities Permanent

May 17, 2023

**Shaheen spearheaded action in the Senate on expanding access to telehealth since before the COVID-19 pandemic**

(Washington, DC) - U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduce the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act with U.S. Senators Manchin (D-WV), Ernst (R-IA) and Moran (R-KS) today to make telehealth flexibilities permanent. The legislation would make permanent the telehealth services provided in rural and underserved areas even now that the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended. Congressman Chris Pappas (NH-01) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

“The expansion of telehealth services during the pandemic allowed Granite Staters to safely access the care they needed and was tremendously helpful to patients and providers in the most rural areas of our state,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m pleased to reintroduce this common-sense legislation with this bipartisan group of Senators to permanently expand these critical services and ensure that Medicare beneficiaries can take advantage of telehealth in all geographic regions of New Hampshire, and that audio-only services are available, especially for patients that lack broadband service. The pandemic exacerbated issues in our society, including access to health care for those in rural areas. It is essential that vital telehealth services continue to be available to patients long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.” 

The Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act would: 

  • Continue the practice of audio-only health services for clinically appropriate health appointments. Congress made allowances for these services which allowed doctors to reach patients wherever they are, particularly those without access to the technology needed for other forms of telehealth appointments. 
  • Permanently waive the geographic restriction which stipulated the home was allowed as an eligible originating site in Medicare and some Medicaid programs, though only for some specific services and only for the patient, not provider. This listing of this restriction will allow patients to be treated from their homes. 
  • Permanently allow rural health clinics and Federally qualified Health Centers to serve as distance sites for providing telehealth services. 
  • Lift the restrictions of “store and forward” technologies for telehealth. Store and forward is the electronic transmission of medical information to a practitioner, who uses the information to evaluate the case or render a service outside of a real-time or live interaction. This practice is less commonly reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid programs. 
  • Allow Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to bill directly for telehealth services. 

During the pandemic, Shaheen led in strengthening and expanding access to telehealth in New Hampshire and across the country. In April 2020, Shaheen, Manchin and Moran led a bipartisan group of Senators in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to increase telephone-based, or audio-only, telehealth reimbursements to equal other audio-visual telehealth reimbursements. The next month, CMS heeded Shaheen’s call and updated guidelines to bring Medicare reimbursement for telephone-based health services in line with Medicare reimbursement for video telehealth. Shaheen also introduced legislation that would provide Medicare reimbursement for audio and video telehealth services furnished by home health agencies during the COVID-19 public health crisis and future public health emergencies. Recently, Shaheen helped reintroduce the bipartisan Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, which would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to safely connect with their doctors.