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Medicare Rights Testifies on the Future of Telehealth

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This week, Medicare Rights Center President Fred Riccardi testified at a hearing of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, Subcommittee on Health entitled “The Future of Telehealth: How COVID-19 is Changing the Delivery of Virtual Care.”

While new information about COVID-19 continues to emerge, it has long been clear that Medicare beneficiaries—people over 65 and those with disabilities—are at high risk of infection, serious illness, and even death from the virus. Policymakers responded to these threats, in part, by adding temporary telehealth flexibilities to Medicare. The changes were swiftly adopted and have helped beneficiaries safely obtain needed care during the pandemic—protecting patients, providers, caregivers, and communities.

While Medicare Rights applauds these successes, much is still unknown about the impact of these sudden changes on beneficiaries and the program. Amid calls to make all of the public health emergency telehealth changes permanent, Mr. Riccardi urged a more thoughtful approach.

“We recognize the rapid shift to telehealth has led to pushes for rapid policymaking. We agree that modernizations are needed, but so is restraint. As you consider the future of [Medicare telehealth] coverage, we respectfully ask you to move forward deliberately and collaboratively, collecting and following the data, and prioritizing beneficiary needs and preferences. Since this may take time and extend beyond the public health emergency period, we support the immediate establishment of a glide path. This would allow the temporary telehealth rules and waivers to phase out gradually, minimizing care interruptions.”

To support these efforts, Mr. Riccardi presented a set of principles, which Medicare Rights Center developed together with our partner, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, for lawmakers to consider, recommending that any Medicare telehealth changes:

  • Include robust consumer protections and oversight requirements;
  • Ensure the provision of high-quality care;
  • Meaningfully increase access to such care; and
  • Promote health equity.

Adhering to these goals will best ensure a system that works for all people with Medicare, regardless of where they live, the coverage pathway they choose, or how they prefer to receive care.

The full written testimony is available here.

Read the joint principles for telehealth here.

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