WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act. Their bipartisan bill would provide Medicare reimbursement for audio and video telehealth services furnished by home health agencies during the COVID-19 public health crisis and future public health emergencies.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how healthcare providers treat their patients. Now, more than ever telehealth is essential to patients receiving needed care and this bill will aid patients in receiving home health services,” said Senator Cardin.
“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 the comfort and safety of their own homes. When the pandemic began, home health agencies quickly increased their use of telemedicine so that they could continue to provide this critical care and treat patients in their homes remotely,” said Senator Collins. “Our bipartisan bill would ensure that seniors in Maine and across the country retain access to remote home health services during 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 Senator 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.”
“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,” said Senator Shaheen. “Ensuring Granite Staters and Americans across the country can access the care they need through telehealth services – especially during public health emergencies — without facing increased costs is a bipartisan concern. I’m glad to join this bipartisan effort to provide Medicare reimbursements for such services so people are not penalized for accessing medical care safely from their homes.”
The 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 Northern Light Health, MaineHealth Care at Home, LeadingAge, the Visiting Nurse Associations of America, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), and the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.