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Policy Snapshot

May 10, 2024

Last week, the House Committee on Ways & Means held a mark-up hearing on several bills to protect and expand health care for millions of seniors. The committee approved six bills that address a wide range of pressing health-care issues, particularly those facing rural communities. The package of bills preserves vital telehealth and health-at-home access, helps prevent rural hospital closures and bring back others already shuttered, incentivizes greater access to ambulance services, and expands the number of doctors and nurses in rural communities.

One of the bills is The Preserving Telehealth, Hospital, and Ambulance Access Act (H.R. 8261), introduced by Reps. David Schweikert (R-AZ) and Mike Thompson (D-CA). H.R. 8261 protects and expands Medicare telehealth for two years, Hospital-at-Home flexibilities for five years, and Medicare supplemental payments for rural hospitals and ambulance services.

This bill extends the telehealth exemptions authorized during 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These exemptions were last extended in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 and are set to expire in December 2024. This bill authorizes a two-year extension through December 2026.
Some specific policies under consideration in this bill include:

  • There are no geographic restrictions for originating sites for telehealth services—without the extension, pre-COVID restrictions on originating sites would return, limiting where telehealth can be utilized.
  • Allowing the use of audio-only communication platforms. The legislation authorizes the continued use of audio-only platforms; the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)  then assigns codes eligible for audio-only billing.
  • Under the extension, telehealth services can continue to be provided by all eligible Medicare providers.

CMS has a list of which codes are billable via telehealth, noting whether they are eligible for audio-only and whether the code is permanently or provisionally billable via telehealth. Nursing home initial visits and discharge day codes would be extended for use through 2026. 

Also extended in this legislation is the flexibility for hospice providers to perform face-to-face recertification via telehealth.

Read the one-pager of the bill here.