Telehealth advocate teams with corporate giants for new trade group

The American Telemedicine Association has launched ATA Action, a new organization pushing to ensure access to telehealth. The effort involves some big names in the business community.

The American Telemedicine Association has been pushing policymakers to ensure access to telehealth, and now the organization is teaming with some of the biggest names in business.

The association has launched a new trade group called ATA Action to press Washington to allow expanded access to telehealth. The association made the announcement Jan. 21.

The new trade group includes some big players, including Walmart, Best Buy Health, Philips and Teladoc Health.

HCA Healthcare and Intermountain Healthcare are also among the partners.

Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the ATA, said now is the time to get Washington to act on telehealth.

“The ATA is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the policy gains we’ve made over the past two years do not go away, reverting us back to an out-of-date care delivery system that leaves millions of vulnerable patients out in the cold,” she said in a statement.

“As we make further gains this year, we also understand that new challenges will arise that will require our continued public policy efforts. ATA Action builds on the significant momentum and widespread support for telehealth, leveraging an even stronger voice and more significant presence in Washington and in state capitals across the country.”

Telehealth options have surged in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus first spread nationwide, the federal government eased restrictions on telehealth to allow patients to get treatments from doctors and other providers via phone or video.

In 2020, the government reported a 63-fold increase in telehealth use by Medicare beneficiaries. There were nearly 53 million telehealth visits among Medicare patients in 2020, compared to 840,000 in the previous year.

The relaxed telehealth restrictions are tied to the federal public health emergency due to COVID-19. The ATA and other healthcare groups have been pressing Congress and President Biden's administration to ensure continued access to telehealth beyond the pandemic.

In the near future, ATA Action plans to ensure the waivers easing access to telehealth stay in place through 2023. But the group will be pressing policymakers to ensure the current access to telehealth services is permanent.

Kyle Zebley, vice president, public policy for the American Telemedicine Association, will also serve as the executive director of ATA Action.

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

Most project telehealth will remain a key part of the healthcare landscape. The Business Group on Health, an organization representing large employers, said telehealth would be one of the top healthcare trends of 2022.

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