Capitol building

Newly reintroduced legislation would provide Medicare reimbursement for audio and video telehealth visits provided by home health agencies during the ongoing pandemic and future public health emergencies.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act late last week. An earlier version of the measure was introduced last October.

Sen. Susan Collins
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)

“Home health serves a vital role in helping our nation’s seniors avoid costly hospital visits and nursing home stays and remain right where they want to be — in their own homes,” Collins said. “Our bipartisan bill would ensure that seniors in Maine and across the country retain access to remote home health service during public health emergencies.”

Both Cardin and Marshall noted that telehealth during the pandemic has improved access to home healthcare. “This legislation allows the flexibilities necessary for our home health providers to continue assisting their patients while keeping them safe and at home,” said Marshall, a medical doctor. 

Shaheen pointed out that people in rural areas have care access challenges. “Increasing coverage for audio and telehealth services has long been an issue in our more rural areas, but the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed how urgently this must be addressed,” Shaheen said.

HEAT would authorize Medicare to reimburse for home health services provided through telehealth during a public health emergency where virtual visits can be used appropriately. The services would not be reimbursed unless the beneficiary consents to receiving services through telehealth.

In recent weeks, a handful of states including Ohio, New Jersey and South Dakota have passed legislation or amended rules regarding reimbursement for telehealth services through Medicaid.

A number of home health organizations and agencies including LeadingAge, the Visiting Nurses Association and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice have endorsed the Senate bill.