Informed by lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced APTA-backed legislation that would make payment for services delivered via telehealth a permanent option for PTs and PTAs participating in Medicare. If passed into law, the legislation would represent a major shift in payment policy long advocated by APTA.
Known as the Expanded Telehealth Access Act (H.R. 2168), the bill was initially sponsored by Reps. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., and David McKinley, R-W.Va. The proposed legislation rapidly gained additional support from both parties, and by the time of its introduction it included 14 additional original cosponsors. The association is urging all PTs, PTAs, students, patients, and other supporters to contact members of Congress by way of the APTA Patient Action Center to voice their support for the new bill.
Essentially, the bill would instruct the U.S Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to permanently adopt what is a temporary waiver of restrictions on payment for telehealth delivered by PTs and PTAs, occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists. The Secretary of Health and Human Services also would be allowed to further expand the list of authorized telehealth providers.
The inclusion of PTs and PTAs as authorized to provide services via telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries has been a longtime advocacy focus for APTA, dating back years before the pandemic triggered the CMS decision to invoke so-called 1135 waivers to allow for payment.
In a press release announcing the introduction of the bill, the primary cosponsors point to the effectiveness of telehealth during the pandemic as an indication that the approach can work for PTs, OTs, and other providers."During the COVID pandemic, healthcare providers adapted and provided telehealth services to serve the needs of millions of vulnerable Americans," said Rep. McKinley in the release. "Telehealth services have been beneficial to the health and well-being of America’s seniors and after the public health emergency ends, it’s crucial that critical access to telehealth does not abruptly end."
"The use of telehealth services during this crisis has demonstrated the critical role technology can play in improving health equity," said Rep. Sherrill. "No one should have to go without care when a video or phone conversation with a health care provider could mean quicker, safer medical attention."
APTA President Sharon L. Dunn, PT, PhD, applauded the bill on behalf of the association, saying that "the use of telehealth during the pandemic has helped ensure patient access to physical therapist services, minimize potential exposure to the virus, and provided an option for therapy clinics and their patients during quarantine restrictions — and it’s made it all the more clear just how valuable telehealth is to patients who may need alternative access to therapy."
"Passage of this bill would represent a major win for physical therapy and the patients they serve," said David Scala, APTA senior specialist of congressional affairs. "We need to seize the momentum on telehealth and make it clear to lawmakers that maintaining it as an option for Medicare beneficiaries is the right thing to do."
It's time to make telehealth a permanent option for PTs and PTAs. APTA makes it easy to add your voice to the effort: PTs, PTAs, students, patients and others can send messages to lawmakers by way of the APTA Patient Action Center. Just follow the instructions for contacting members of Congress.