Legislation to Make OTs Long-Term Telehealth Providers

Helping seniors, rural communities at heart of initiative for telehealth providers

Representatives Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and David McKinley (R-WV) introduced the Expanded Telehealth Access Act (H.R. 8755) on November 16. This bill would enable occupational therapy practitioners to provide occupational therapy (OT) services to Medicare beneficiaries via telehealth even after the current Public Health Emergency (PHE) expires. Legislation is essential because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has indicated that it does not have the authority to extend the current PHE telehealth therapy provisions without Congressional action.

“Waivers issued by CMS to allow occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants to provide services to Medicare beneficiaries via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the effectiveness of occupational therapy delivered through telehealth and the importance of removing barriers to care,” said Wendy C. Hildenbrand, PhD, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA, President of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

“AOTA champions the bi-partisan efforts of Representatives Sherrill and McKinley to insure that the provision of occupational therapy delivered via telehealth will remain an option for Medicare beneficiaries once the Public Health Emergency ends.” 

Representative Sherrill’s district includes Morristown, Parsippany, and other towns in northern New Jersey. She notes that “telehealth has enabled seniors and others who are at higher risk of complications related to COVID-19 to continue to receive essential therapy services during the pandemic.” She adds that “many Medicare beneficiaries are eager to continue to access care via telehealth, and the Expanded Telehealth Access Act would enable them to do so.” 

Representative McKinley notes that “ensuring access to quality health care is more important now than ever. All too often people who live in rural communities in West Virginia don’t have access to the health care specialists they need. McKinley adds that “it is crucial that such access via telehealth not end abruptly once the public health emergency ends.”

When the pandemic struck, Congress enacted legislation that enabled CMS to waive restrictions on occupational therapy practitioners and other therapy providers’ ability to provide Medicare services telehealth. CMS responded by issuing an emergency rule that added a series of therapy CPT® codes to the telehealth services list, and then subsequently issued another rule that included occupational therapy practitioners as eligible Medicare telehealth providers, once Congress enacted legislation allowing them to do so. This effectively enabled OTs to provide services via telehealth to Part B Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 emergency; however, these waivers are not permanent.

SOURCE: AOTA

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