April 30, 2021
Ways and Means Health Subcommittee hearing on charting the path forward for telehealth
On April 28, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health held a hearing entitled, "Charting the Path Forward for Telehealth." The hearing focused on exploring the next steps for telehealth following widespread adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the potential opportunities, barriers, and outstanding questions that remain when considering making permanent or expanding upon pandemic flexibilities. Throughout the hearing, many committee members painted telehealth as a "bright spot" or "silver lining" of the pandemic, calling it a lifeline for seniors and underserved populations.
Throughout the hearing, committee members and panelists applauded the promise of telehealth in expanding access to care while also cautioning that telehealth should be treated as complementary to in-person care and just one part of a robust "toolkit" for providers, including audio-only and text-based solutions as well as audio-visual and in-person care. Several members and panelists noted how mental health is an area particularly well suited for telehealth, given the lack of a need to "touch" the patient as well as the severe shortage of providers, and some panelists also suggested how telehealth could be leveraged for chronic conditions and those who have difficulty traveling and accessing specialists. There was general consensus shifting toward value-based and alternative payment models that reward outcomes will enable providers to take advantage of telehealth and other new technologies without added burden.
When considering barriers to uptake, in particular regarding underserved communities, committee members and panelists supported addressing broadband access but noted that it's not just a problem of availability, but access and affordability for certain populations. They also discussed how Congress must ensure telehealth does not exacerbate existing inequalities and that we still must invest in building out the provider pipeline in rural and underserved areas, provide patients with a choice of telehealth and in person care, ensure provision of culturally-competent care, and ensure we are collecting patient outcomes and experience data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and other key factors.
Regarding payment, there was a divergence of opinion on the panel with those who thought we should move forward with permanently expanding the pandemic telehealth flexibilities to encourage providers to continue investing in these technologies and retaining the option for patients, with those who cautioned that we need more, non-pandemic data and that we should extend the flexibilities for a short period of time to inform policy moving forward. While some noted concerns around overutilization and potential fraud, others said that initial utilization data and fraud-prevention technologies are promising.
Additional information is available in the attach Tax Alert.
Subcommittee hearing on telehealth