WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 25, 2021)—Recently, legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives that would make various improvements to the provision of telehealth. The Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021 (S. 1512/H.R. 2903) is being led by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi), and Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Califorina), Dave Schweikert (R-Arizona), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Doris Matsui (D-California), and Peter Welch (D-Vermont).
This is the latest iteration for the CONNECT Act that has been introduced in the past several congressional sessions. While the bill itself has not yet been voted into law, provisions it includes are regularly included in other legislation that ultimately has become law or are adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Lessons learned from the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) appear to have played a prominent role in this newly introduced version. Specifically, the legislation cites the PHE as demonstrating telehealth benefits of reducing risk of infection for patients and providers, conserving valuable space in facilities, as well as citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “telehealth services should be optimized, when available and appropriate, during the pandemic.”
Sen. Schatz heralded the introduction of the CONNECT Act in a press release stating, “The last year has shown us that telehealth works, it’s popular, and it’s here to stay. Our comprehensive bill makes it easier for more people to safely get the care they need no matter where they live.”
The CONNECT Act includes a variety of provisions. Those with direct impact to homecare and hospice providers follow
- Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretarial authority to waive telehealth requirements—This would allow the HHS secretary to waive certain requirements related to payment for telehealth services, provided that quality of care would not be adversely impacted. These waivers would need to be reassessed at least every three years to ensure quality of care remains undiminished.
- Removal of geographic requirements for telehealth.
- Expansion of originating sites to include the home.
- Waiver of telehealth requirements during public health emergencies.
- Use of telehealth services for hospice recertification—would allow for telehealth for recertification of the Medicare hospice benefit.
- Provides $3 million for audit, investigation,and other oversight activity relative to telehealth services
- Mandates the HHS Secretary to make available educational resources and training sessions of telehealth service requirements for beneficiaries and providers.
The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) supports the CONNECT Act and appreciates the sponsoring Senators and Representatives for their leadership and championing of telehealth. NAHC will work with these leaders on advancing the legislation and furthering the availability of these valuable services.