On March 15, President Biden signed into law an omnibus FY 2022 spending bill to keep the federal government funded through Sept. 30, following a deal reached in Congress on March 8.
As a temporary measure to continue Medicare telehealth flexibilities, the funding bill included an extension of the key Medicare telehealth flexibilities for 151 days following the yet-to-be-determined end of the federal public health emergency.
The latest 90-day extension of the federal public health emergency ends on April 16; however, the Department of Health and Human Services has informed states it would give them at least 60 days’ notice before ending it. Thus, many expect the public health emergency will be extended by the administration at least through July.
Under the bill signed into law, key telehealth flexibilities that would continue for 151 days following the end of the public health emergency include:
- Continuation of the waiver of Medicare originating site and geographic restrictions;
- Continuation of the Medicare waivers that expanded the types of practitioners eligible to provide telehealth services (occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists and audiologists); and
- Continuation of Medicare waivers allowing for audio-only telehealth services.
The omnibus bill also includes funding for several telehealth studies that some have identified as a means to help support more reasonable Congressional Budget Office cost estimates for making these changes permanent. There are multiple bipartisan bills that would make Medicare telehealth reforms permanent, but the Congressional Budget Office cost process continues to slow advancement of the bills.
“As has occurred before in the context of other bills impacting Medicare reimbursement, there may be one or more temporary ‘extensions’ before a permanent fix is passed,” said WHA Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter. “Agreement on a temporary extension of telehealth flexibilities following the eventual end of the public health emergency is welcome news and does not indicate that permanent changes are off the table in Congress. WHA continues to advocate to the Wisconsin Congressional delegation for making these telehealth flexibilities permanent,” Hoelter added.
The omnibus spending legislation also included flexibilities for 340B hospitals that rely on their disproportionate share hospital mix for entry into the 340B discount drug program. Specifically, it included legislation authored by Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would allow such hospitals to not lose access to 340B discounts as a result of changes in patient mixes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is unclear how many hospitals in Wisconsin were at risk of losing their 340B status, WHA supported this legislation
to provide more certainty to hospitals during the unprecedented and often unforeseen challenges that came about during the pandemic.
Questions about the telehealth extensions, can be directed to either WHA General Counsel Matthew Stanford
or WHA Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter