The CONNECT for Health Act: What your practice should know
If your practice rolled out a telehealth solution in response to COVID-19, you may be wondering how long you should offer virtual care, and to what extent.
After all, the answer will affect your practice’s technology investment, office space, hiring, and other decisions. Or, you may be hesitant to implement a telehealth solution due to uncertainty within the industry.
“Telemedicine, when optimized within the healthcare delivery model, will take hold,” Ethan Bing, Practice Administrator of Medical Colleagues of Texas, said in 2020, shortly after his practice put an emergency plan for telehealth in place. Ethan shared his perspective in the blog, “Different experiences, common lessons from COVID-19.”
The CONNECT for Health Act: Response to a changing industry
Following the declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) relaxed telehealth requirements — and widespread adoption of telehealth followed. Throughout the pandemic, guidelines from CMS and insurance payers have continued to evolve. The question for practice decision-makers is what to expect in the long term.
Over the course of the pandemic, telehealth adoption became widespread. In March 2021, 61.1% of Americans had completed a telehealth appointment, compared to just 19.5% a year before, according to a study by Sykes Enterprises.
Now, a bipartisan group of 50 U.S. senators has introduced the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021. The telehealth legislation, the latest iteration of the CONNECT for Health Act that first debuted in 2016, draws on previous versions, as well as the guideline changes over the past year.
What is the CONNECT for Health Act?
The CONNECT for Health Act aims to make telehealth regulation flexibilities permanent and expand telehealth coverage through Medicaid — boosting patient outcomes and making it easier for patients to connect with providers.
“The last year has shown us that telehealth works, it’s popular, and it’s here to stay.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)
“The last year has shown us that telehealth works, it’s popular, and it’s here to stay,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), one of the lawmakers leading the bill, said in a press release. “Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to safely get the care they need no matter where they live.”
Proposed CMS telehealth expansion
The updated version of the bill features new provisions to encourage access to telehealth services related to Medicare. These provisions aim to:
Remove geographic restrictions on telehealth services
Expand “originating sites” to include the home and other sites
Make permanent a provision to allow health centers and rural health clinics (RHCs) to provide telehealth services
Make permanent a provision that gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) authority to waive telehealth restrictions
Allow waiver of telehealth restrictions during a public health emergency (PHE)
What happens next?
Greenway has joined other industry stakeholders in supporting the CONNECT for Health Act. In particular, Greenway supports removal of geographic restrictions, inclusion of the home as a qualifying originating site, and eligibility for reimbursement for RHCs and FQHCs as distant site providers. Greenway has contacted our constituent senate offices to urge the support and signing of this bill.
Although Congressional action is still required for many telehealth service expansions, the CONNECT for Health Act has the support of more than 150 organizations. Click here for a summary of the bill and a list of its supporters.
Decision-makers seeking direction
From the practice owner’s perspective, telehealth appears to have a promising, yet open-ended future. A Feb. 9, 2021 MGMA Stat poll found about 31% of healthcare leaders expect they will increase telehealth use in 2021. Meanwhile, 35% said they expect to decrease telehealth use, and 34% expect no change.
Those who see a future for telehealth point to patient demand and convenience as contributing factors. A study done by Doctor.com suggests that 83% of patients are likely to use telehealth beyond the pandemic – supporting the idea that patient demand will contribute to the future of telehealth utilization.
Alternatively, those who expect a decrease in use raised concerns about coverage. In some cases, they questioned whether payers will maintain their current reimbursement rates. However, it is expected that once there is clarity with the legislation in question, the concerns associated with the “decrease” respondents will be minimized.
Staying informed on telehealth legislation
If your practice is considering technology options for telehealth, choose a vendor that can keep you up to date on telehealth legislation and offers a user-friendly, innovative solution that meets provider and patient needs.
With Greenway Telehealth™, clients benefit from a team of knowledgeable advisors who can help them navigate billing guidelines and the latest CMS requirements, as well as the progress of the CONNECT for Health Act.
Virtual care success starts with an innovative solution — now for $39 per provider, per month.