Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Provide Medicare Reimbursement for Home Health Agencies’ Delivery of Telehealth Services During Public Health Emergencies

October 28, 2020

On October 23, 2020, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth Act (“HEAT Act”). Concurrently, Representatives Roger Marshall (R-KS), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Jodey Arrington (R-TX), and Mike Thompson (D-CA) introduced a companion bill in the House. The purpose of the bill is “[t]o provide payments for home health services furnished via visual or audio telecommunication systems during an emergency period.”  While the reimbursement authorization is limited to services rendered in an emergency area and period (any geographical area in which a public health emergency has been declared by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services), Senator Collins, a sponsor of the legislation, asserts that COVID-19 has “further underscored the critical importance of home health services and highlighted how these agencies are able to use telehealth to provide skilled care to their patients . . . .” More permanent solutions is likely to occur for non-emergency furnishing of home health services using telehealth.

In response to COVID-19, the HEAT Act would authorize Medicare reimbursement for home health services provided through telehealth, where telehealth can be used appropriately. Telehealth services will be reimbursed only if the beneficiary consents to receive services through a telehealth platform. To avoid overreliance on telehealth delivery, reimbursement will only be provided if telehealth services constitute no more than 50 percent of the billable visits made in a 30-day payment period.

The bill calls for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to prescribe regulations to apply to home health services delivered through telehealth systems and may consider the following: “(A) standards for the content of orders 4 and patient consent for such services; (B) documentation of such services provided and billing units of such services; (C) the nature and level of resources utilized for such services provided via video or audio telecommunication systems for purposes of determining equivalency with in-person visits in establishing the payment for such services; and (D) standards to ensure program integrity and prevent the incidence of fraud, waste, and abuse with respect to such services.”