HOWARD — Friday, Representatives Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., and G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., introduced the bipartisan Helping Ensure Access to Local TeleHealth, or the HEALTH Act, which codifies Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services rendered by community health centers and rural health clinics.
The bill also allows these health facilities to continue to utilize audio-only telehealth visits for patients who do not have access to quality broadband.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has added tremendous reach and value to communities across the country, especially in rural America. The HEALTH Act builds upon previously enacted provisions in the COVID-19 relief packages and provides access to vital health care services to more seniors, regardless of their geographic location.
“As a former healthcare professional, who spent nearly 30 years serving rural populations, I am amazed at how telehealth services make life simpler for rural and underserved communities— and in particular older Americans,” said Thompson. “Continued use and promotion of these services will improve health equity by increasing access to care for our most vulnerable. The HEALTH Act cuts red tape and permanently allows community health centers and rural health clinics to furnish telehealth services to their patients.”
Butterfield called telehealth a necessity.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that access to telehealth at community health centers has become more than just a convenience, but rather a critical necessity in America,” said Butterfield. “All patients, particularly our Medicare recipients, are in need of a solution to ensure access to telehealth services are free from undue barriers and restrictions. That is why I am proud to join Congressman GT Thompson in introducing this vital legislation to ensure vulnerable Medicare patients will be able to access necessary telehealth services at community health centers beyond the pandemic.”
The director of the Keystone Rural Health Consortia Inc., in Emporium, Pa., spoke of the necessity of telehealth as well.
“Keystone Rural Health Consortia Inc greatly appreciates Rep. Glenn Thompson’s efforts in reintroducing his HEALTH Act to Congress in support of FQHCs’ and RHCs’ ability to permanently provide and bill for telehealth services under Medicare,” said Kristie Bennardi, CEO and CFO of Keystone Rural Health Consortia Inc. “His continued support of rural areas and community health centers has been critical to ensuring access to care for those faced with transportation barriers, especially our Medicare population. Telehealth services are a critical piece in providing care for elderly Pennsylvanians.”