Telehealth advocates ramp up pressure on elected officials

The American Telemedicine Association announced Friday that it had launched ATA Action, a new affiliated trade organization aimed at supporting the enactment of state and federal telehealth coverage throughout the United States.

ATA Action, which will be helmed by ATA Vice President of Public Policy Kyle Zebley, will also push for appropriate payment policies to safeguard access to virtual care.  

“This is an important step forward in our march to turn policy into law that enables access to telehealth and gives providers and patients certainty in knowing that virtual care will remain an important component of care delivery for the future,” Zebley said in a statement.  

ATA Action Founding Advocacy Council Members currently include:  

  • Babylon 
  • Best Buy Health 
  • Bicycle Health 
  • Circle Medical 
  • FOLX 
  • Hone Health 
  • LifePoint Health 
  • Philips  

Major retailers, telehealth vendors and provider organizations also appear on the list of additional founding members:  

  • 1-800 Contacts 
  • Doximity 
  • HCA Healthcare 
  • Hims & Hers 
  • Intermountain Healthcare 
  • One Medical 
  • Ophelia Prescribery 
  • Ro 
  • Teladoc Health 
  • Walmart 
  • Ziegler  

In the near term, ATA Action says it is pushing for at least a year’s extension of the temporary flexibilities put in place during the COVID-19 public health emergency, along with longer-term goals of making policies permanent. 

“Over the past two-plus years, telehealth has proven to be a lifeline to patients with limited or no access to necessary care. We will continue to work closely with our members, telehealth policy champions and other stakeholders to wage an even stronger campaign to avoid the looming ‘telehealth cliff,'” said Zebley, referring to the end of the public health emergency.

ATA Action will continue to add more members in the coming year, and we welcome interested organizations who wish to join our efforts,” Zebley added.  

Reinstating benefits for millions of Americans  

Meanwhile, more than 125 healthcare organizations – including the ATA – sent a letter to congressional leadership on Friday asking Congress to reinstate telehealth flexibilities for patients for certain kinds of health plans.  

As the stakeholders explained, until recently, 32 million people in the employer market with high-deductible health plans coupled with Health Savings Accounts, also known as  HDHP-HSAs, were able to receive telehealth benefits pre-deductible, thanks to temporary flexibilities under the CARES Act.  

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 96% of employers adopted pre-deductible coverage for telehealth after this provision was put in place.  

“This commonsense policy helped ensure that families could access vital telehealth services – including virtual primary care and behavioral health services – prior to having to meet their deductible,” wrote the organizations. 

However, the letter noted, those flexibilities expired Dec. 31, 2021.   

“The ability to offer pre-deductible telehealth services for employees is a meaningful expansion of healthcare access for 32 million Americans,” wrote the signers.  

The organizations also pointed out that elected officials have put forth several bipartisan bills that would extend the benefit.  

Signers also included the Connected Health Initiative, the Alliance for Connected Care, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Healthcare IT News parent company HIMSS.  

“As the pandemic continues, particularly in light of the surge in cases due to the Delta and Omicron variants, individuals need continued access to these vital services,” read the letter.  

“We strongly encourage you to reinstate this important provision as soon as possible to ensure Americans can access the telehealth coverage and virtual care they need,” it continued.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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