WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act today, a bipartisan bill to provide Medicare reimbursement for audio and video telehealth services furnished by home health agencies during the COVID-19 emergency and future public health emergencies. U.S. Representatives Roger Marshall (R-KS), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged home health providers’ ability to provide care to patients in their homes. Home health providers have been able to overcome these challenges by utilizing telehealth to deliver some services to Medicare beneficiaries,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee. “This legislation allows home health services to be provided via telehealth during a public health emergency in order to ensure patients receive needed care.
“Home health serves a vital role in helping our nation’s seniors avoid more costly hospital visits and nursing home stays. The COVID-19 emergency has further underscored the critical importance of home health services and highlighted how these agencies are able to use telehealth to provide skilled care to their patients,” said Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee. “This bipartisan bill would ensure that seniors in Maine and across the country retain access to remote home health services during the COVID-19 emergency and future public health emergencies.”
“Since taking office, I have been a strong proponent of telehealth services and during this pandemic we have seen the use of telehealth dramatically improve patients access to care,” said Rep. Roger Marshall, M.D. “This legislation allows the flexibilities necessary for our home health providers to continue assisting their patients while keeping them safe and at home. It is important we do all we can to protect our most vulnerable and provide our nurses and doctors with every resource necessary to continue providing high-quality care.”
“I know firsthand the benefits of home health care. When my dad was left wheelchair-bound after a series of strokes, we were fortunate enough to find home health care from highly-skilled and caring health care professionals right where he wanted to be – at home in Selma,” said Rep. Sewell. “As a passionate supporter of protecting home health services, I’m proud to introduce the bicameral and bipartisan Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act, which will ensure that home health providers have the resources necessary to protect patients in their homes and health care professionals during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our bill achieves these goals by enabling home health agencies to get reimbursed for clinically-appropriate telehealth visits during the pandemic. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this bicameral and bipartisan legislation so that patients can continue to receive the care they deserve in their homes.”
“This legislation provides commonsense flexibilities to ensure patients in West Texas and across the nation can continue to get the care they need,” stated Rep. Arrington, a Co-Chair of the Ways and Means Rural and Underserved Communities Health Task Force. “Utilizing telehealth protects our home health providers, saves PPE, and allows patients to receive care in a way they’re comfortable with.”
“The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is reaffirming the importance of telehealth in ensuring people can access care while cutting down on the spread of the virus. That’s why I am proud to introduce this bipartisan and bicameral bill to help Medicare beneficiaries better access home health care through telehealth. As Co-Chair of the Telehealth Caucus, I will work to get this bill passed and continue expanding the use of telemedicine, both during this health crisis and beyond,” said Rep. Thompson.
The Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act would authorize Medicare reimbursement for home health services provided through telehealth during a public health emergency where telehealth can be used appropriately. The services would not be reimbursed unless the beneficiary consents to receiving the services via telehealth. To ensure that the Medicare home health benefit does not become a telehealth-only benefit, Medicare reimbursement would only be provided if the telehealth services constitute no more than half of the billable visits made during the 30-day payment period.
The bipartisan bill has been endorsed by several home health organizations and agencies, including Leading Age, the Visiting Nurse Associations, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), and the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.
“Many of our home health members have been providing critical services without reimbursement during the pandemic. The HEAT Act would resolve this inequity and put our home health members on par with all other providers with regards to flexibility during this and future public health emergencies. LeadingAge and our partners VNAA/ElevatingHOME thank the sponsors, Senators Collins and Cardin and Representatives Marshall, Sewell, Arrington, and Thompson, for all of their work on this important legislation,” said Katie Smith Sloan, President/CEO of LeadingAge and Acting President/CEO of the Visiting Nurse Associations of America/ElevatingHOME.
“From the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic it has been well known that limiting person-to-person contact is key in reducing transmission and infection rates,” said Bill Dombi, President of NAHC. “Enabling home health agencies to incorporate telehealth visits into the plan of care, with reimbursement, will unlock new means of safe care delivery bringing peace of mind to Medicare beneficiaries. This bill, the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act, will ensure that home health providers are able to utilize the full array of tools at their fingertips to reduce the risk of virus transmission, protecting patients in their homes, and health care professionals on the frontlines. NAHC thanks Senators Collins and Cardin, and Representatives Marshall, Sewell, Arrington and Thompson for their continued leadership in enabling patients to safely receive care in the home.”
“The Partnership applauds Senators Collins and Cardin and Representatives Marshall, Sewell, Arrington, and Thompson for their introduction of this important legislation, which supports the provision of telehealth to Medicare home health patients. We thank the Senators for their ongoing and steadfast support for home health. It’s especially important during the COVID19 pandemic, as home health is an even more important lifeline for America’s disabled and elderly community,” said Joanne Cunningham, Executive Director, Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.
Click HERE to read the bill text.