July 20,2020

Wyden Proposes Major Expansion of Telehealth in Medicare

New Legislation from Finance Committee Ranking Member is Largest Improvement to Telehealth in Decades

Bill Includes Removal of Restrictions for Non-Rural Areas, Access to Mental Health Care Via Telehealth for All Seniors in Medicare

Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today released a proposal to significantly expand the availability of telehealth services in Medicare on a permanent basis. The bill comes as the use of telehealth services has greatly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a safe option for at-risk populations. 

“Out of necessity during this pandemic, doctors, patients and public health officials have come to recognize that telehealth works,” Wyden said. “Telehealth allows seniors, especially those with multiple chronic conditions, to stay on top of their medical care without taking unnecessary risks or the inconvenience of leaving home. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trial by fire, but the experience to date has made clear that the health care system is ready for broader access to telehealth on a permanent basis. I’m also proud to say that my bill makes mental health care via telehealth a right for all seniors in Medicare, which is more necessary than ever at a time of increased isolation and anxiety such as this.” 

Earlier this year, Congress took steps to expand access to telehealth in Medicare on a temporary basis during the pandemic. Wyden’s bill would permanently eliminate key statutory barriers, making mental health services and commonplace medical visits (known as evaluation and management (E/M) services) available through telehealth to all Medicare beneficiaries and allowing those telehealth services to be provided to beneficiaries in the comfort of their own homes – even after the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended. 

The bill goes beyond any steps the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can take with its existing authority, by removing the statutory geographic restrictions and expanding the available originating sites for those telehealth services. Under current law, CMS’s authority to waive the statutory telehealth requirements in Medicare will lapse when the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) declares an end to the public health emergency.

The full legislative language can be found here.