In early February, two senators introduced the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act to extend Medicare telehealth reimbursement waivers another 2 years following the end of the public health emergency declared due to the COVID pandemic. It would also extend DEA prescribing waivers for another 2 years. Under this bill, reimbursement for telehealth services would continue. It would also continue coverage for patients with high deductible plans, rural hospitals, and others.

While this bill is a needed law in our current times, it stops short on many fronts. We all know the high infectivity rate of COVID and the need to practice physical distancing. In a typical medical practice, there are many immunocompromised patients in close proximity to those who may have various infections. Such a close contact can quite literally kill them. Telehealth is a great tool to keep sick patients home and treated through telemedicine, while at the same time protecting those who are at higher risk. This is certainly true for COVID, but it holds true for other infections as well. Patients often say they are just too sick to come into the office. Often, it is quite simple to triage them via telemedicine.

When the pandemic ends, the need for telemedicine will not. We have all seen the benefits. From the mother who has to bundle up all her kids in the cold weather to bring along with her to her doctor’s visit, to the daughter who has an elderly mother in a different state, there are so many people who can get quality care through the use of telemedicine. It is also less expensive to administer. Telehealth should indeed be extended, but not for 2 years; it should become a permanent part of the healthcare landscape.

Why the Bill Falls Short:

❯ It doesn’t recognize the value of telehealth as a tool outside of the current pandemic.

❯ It defines a narrow scope of who may benefit from these services. Often, patients don’t get medical care because they just don’t have time. Telehealth opens a whole new opportunity for the time-crunched.

❯ It gives an extension of 2 years beyond the end of the pandemic (ie, 2024). Yet, no one really knows when the pandemic will end.