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Butterfield: Medicare should pay for telehealth services

Posted on July 18, 2021

Local news

Butterfield

Butterfield

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield has refiled a bipartisan bill to codify Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services rendered by community health centers and rural health clinics.

Butterfield, D-Wilson, and Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District, introduced the HEALTH Act, or Helping Ensure Access to Local TeleHealth, on Friday. In addition to providing for Medicare payments, the bill would allow these facilities to use audio-only telehealth visits for patients without reliable broadband internet access.

The HEALTH Act was initially filed in June 2020 and referred to the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees. The bill didn’t receive a committee hearing or floor vote before the 116th Congress expired in January, requiring an updated version of the legislation to be introduced.

In a Friday news release, Butterfield noted the high demand for telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in rural communities. He said the HEALTH Act builds upon provisions in the COVID-19 relief packages and provides access to vital health care services to more seniors, regardless of their geographic location.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that access to telehealth at community health centers has become more than just a convenience, but rather a critical necessity in America,” Butterfield said. “All patients, particularly our Medicare recipients, are in need of a solution to ensure access to telehealth services are free from undue barriers and restrictions. That is why I am proud to join Congressman G.T. Thompson in introducing this vital legislation to ensure vulnerable Medicare patients will be able to access necessary telehealth services at community health centers beyond the pandemic.”

Thompson, who was primary sponsor of the 2020 version, worked as a rehabilitation therapist manager before his election to Congress.

“As a former health care professional who spent nearly 30 years serving rural populations, I am amazed at how telehealth services make life simpler for rural and underserved communities— and in particular older Americans,” Thompson said in the release. “Continued use and promotion of these services will improve health equity by increasing access to care for our most vulnerable. The HEALTH Act cuts red tape and permanently allows community health centers and rural health clinics to furnish telehealth services to their patients.”

The National Association of Community Health Centers, National Association of Rural Health Clinics, North Carolina Community Health Center Association, Pennsylvania Association of Community Health Centers and Keystone Rural Health Consortia are supporting the legislation. 

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