A new bipartisan bill was introduced to the US House of Representatives on Thursday. It allows employers to offer standalone telehealth programs in addition to traditional medical health plans. The bill, called the Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act, would classify telehealth as an excepted benefit and amend the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Affordable Care Act so that all employees, including part-time and seasonal workers, can receive the benefit.
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) recently proposed the Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act. The bill aims to make telehealth services more accessible to workers by allowing employers to offer them as a standalone benefit. This would allow employees to receive telehealth care from the comfort of their homes on their own schedule. DelBene noted that COVID-19 emphasized the convenience and effectiveness of telehealth services. The proposed bill will ensure workers are able to continue to benefit from them even as businesses return to in-person work. “The COVID-19 public health emergency reinforced the importance of widespread access to telehealth services for millions of Americans – especially those living in rural and underserved communities”, adds coauthor Rep. Angie Craig (MN-01). “Over the past two years, patients and providers alike have come to the conclusion that the benefits of this new and growing service are simply irreplaceable.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in federal and state legislation eliminating restrictions on telehealth to broaden access to virtual care. However, there is uncertainty about these regulations after the pandemic ends. Telehealth advocates were successful in the inclusion of Medicare coverage flexibilities in the omnibus spending package last month, but these waivers only last until five months after the public health emergency is over.
Congress is facing increased pressure to make pandemic-related telehealth flexibilities a permanent part of healthcare. Numerous coalitions have formed to back the cause, with Congressman Walberg releasing a statement regarding the importance of telehealth. According to him, telehealth has been a lifeline for many individuals, especially those in rural areas. It has eliminated barriers to care, allowed for more specialist consultations, and improved overall health outcomes. Two bills, the Telehealth Extension Act and the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, have been presented to Congress to help solidify the use of telehealth in the post-pandemic world.