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Lawmakers push bipartisan bill to expand telehealth access

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The measure would allow employers to offer standalone telehealth benefits, similar to vision and dental plans.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are pushing a bill that they would said would provide a permanent expansion of access to telehealth.

Several House members are backing legislation that would allow employers to offer standalone telehealth benefits, similar to vision or dental plans.

Lawmakers said under the legislation, the telehealth benefit wouldn’t replace traditional health plans, but the telehealth benefits would give workers another way to gain access to healthcare providers. The measure is dubbed the Telehealth Benefits Expansion for Workers Act. (Here’s the text of the bill.)

The sponsors are U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, Tim Walberg, D-Mich., Angie Craig, D-Minn., Ron Estes, R-Kansas,, Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., and Rick Allen, R-Ga.

“Everyone – regardless of where they live – should be able to access quality care when and where they need it,” DelBene said in a statement. “The Telehealth Benefit Expansion for Workers Act is an important step toward modernizing our health care system to ensure patients can connect with their health care providers from the comfort of their homes on their own schedule.”

Walberg said that classifying these services as an “excepted benefit” would help ensure more people could utilize telehealth.

“The pandemic revealed how telehealth is a critical tool to ensure that Americans can receive timely, quality, and affordable care from their own home,” Walberg said in a statement. “Expanding telehealth services will help ensure that Americans have improved access to health care, especially in underserved areas.

Members of Congress proposed a similar bill in the last congressional session, and dozens of healthcare organizations signaled their support for the measure. Now, lawmakers are giving it another shot in the new congressional session that began last month.

Lawmakers and President Biden have shown strong support for telehealth. As part of the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package, Congress and the White House agreed in December to a two-year extension of telehealth waivers to run through 2024. The government eased restrictions on telehealth early in the COVID-19 pandemic, but the waivers are tied to the federal COVID-19 public health emergency.

The two-year waiver is especially critical, now that the White House has said the public health emergency will end in May.

Even so, healthcare advocates are pressing for permanent telehealth reforms to ensure hospitals and providers are able to get reimbursed for providing virtual care.

Read more: Telehealth diagnosis shows high degree of accuracy, study finds


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