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Sewell introduces bill to bolster telehealth services

Before many people had made it to work Monday morning, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, was at work in Washington, introducing a bill alongside a bipartisan contingent of lawmakers to provide Medicare reimbursements for audio and video telehealth services furnished by home health agencies during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen a surge over the last few weeks.

Sewell was joined by U.S. Reps. Roger Marshall, R-KS, Jodey Arrington, R-TX, and Mike Thompson, D-CA, while the bill was carried in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Ben Cardin, D-MD.

“I know firsthand the benefits of home healthcare,” Sewell said in a press release Monday morning. “When my dad was left wheelchair-bound after a series of strokes, we were fortunate enough to find home healthcare from highly-skilled and caring healthcare professionals right where he wanted to be – at home in Selma. As a passionate supporter of protecting home health services, I’m proud to introduce the bicameral and bipartisan Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act, which will ensure that home health providers have the resources necessary to protect patients in their homes and healthcare professionals during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our bill achieves these goals by enabling home health agencies to get reimbursed for clinically-appropriate telehealth visits during the pandemic. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this bicameral and bipartisan legislation so that patients can continue to receive the care they deserve in their homes.”

The HEAT Act would authorize Medicare reimbursement for home health services provided via telehealth methods during a public health crisis, such as the one the nation is now facing, assuming those services are consented to by the patient.

Additionally, in order to ensure that the Medicare home health benefit does not turn into a telehealth-only benefit, reimbursement will only be provided if the services constitute no more than half of the billable visits made during the 30-day payment period.

“The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is reaffirming the importance of telehealth in ensuring people can access care while cutting down on the spread of the virus,” said Thompson. “That’s why I am proud to introduce this bipartisan and bicameral bill to help Medicare beneficiaries better access home healthcare through telehealth. As Co-Chair of the Telehealth Caucus, I will work to get this bill passed and continue expanding the use of telemedicine, both during this health crisis and beyond.”

“Since taking office, I have been a strong proponent of telehealth services and during this pandemic we have seen the use of telehealth dramatically improve patients access to care,” said Marshall, who received his Doctor of Medicine from Kansas State University.“This legislation allows the flexibilities necessary for our home health providers to continue assisting their patients while keeping them safe and at home. It is important we do all we can to protect our most vulnerable and provide our nurses and doctors with every resource necessary to continue providing high-quality care.”

The legislation has the support of numerous home health organizations and agencies, including Leading Age, the Visiting Nurse Associations of America, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC) and the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.

“From the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic it has been well known that limiting person-to-person contact is key in reducing transmission and infection rates,” said NAHC President Bill Dombi.  “Enabling home health agencies to incorporate telehealth visits into the plan of care, with reimbursement, will unlock new means of safe care delivery bringing peace of mind to Medicare beneficiaries. This bill, the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act, will ensure that home health providers are able to utilize the full array of tools at their fingertips to reduce the risk of virus transmission, protecting patients in their homes, and health care professionals on the frontlines. NAHC thanks Senators Collins and Cardin, and Representatives Marshall, Sewell, Arrington and Thompson for their continued leadership in enabling patients to safely receive care in the home.”