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Shaheen, Manchin, Hyde-Smith & Moran Lead Bipartisan Call for Equal Telephone-Based Health Services Reimbursements

(Madbury, NH) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) led 37 Senators in advocating for 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. Many Americans do not have access to reliable broadband, making it nearly impossible to use video-sharing to receive telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead they must turn to telephone-based telehealth services. However, healthcare professionals who provide these services are not receiving the same reimbursement for their telephone-based consultations as they would for visual consultations. These low reimbursement rates can be a barrier to broader access to audio-only telehealth services. U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) also signed this letter.

The Senators said in part, “As COVID-19 continues to spread in communities across the United States, millions of people are following directives to stay home and avoid risking exposure to the virus. In conjunction with those directives, health care providers have shifted to offering audio-visual telehealth services to patients, so that patients can receive evaluations, medical consultations, checkups and other services in their own homes, instead of risking exposure at a health care facility. However, for instances where a patient has no home access to internet, broadband or other cell phone services, physicians and other providers are furnishing these medical consultations through audio-only formats, such as telephone calls.”

This letter is supported by: American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American College of Physicians, American College of Rheumatology, American College of Surgeons, American Gastroenterological Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Medical Group Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Society for Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, American Telemedicine Association, Endocrine Society, Medical Group Management Association, and the Primary Care Collaborative.

The letter can be viewed here.

Shaheen has worked to facilitate the use of telehealth for New Hampshire patients and health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 response legislation that Senator Shaheen voted to pass into law earlier this year waives restrictions on the use of telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries during this outbreak, a provision which Shaheen fought to include following her conversations with community health centers. Senators Shaheen and Hassan have urged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to strengthen New Hampshire veterans’ access to telehealth as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. Shaheen and Hassan have also sent multiple letters in support of increasing broadband access for low-income Granite Staters, and have urged the Federal Communications Commission to expand access to telehealth services in rural communities. In a letter sent to Congressional leadership, Shaheen and Hassan called for increased investments in mental and behavioral health, including for substance use disorder, in future COVID-19 response legislation – which includes support for behavioral health providers to transition to telehealth services.