Employers Ask for Changes as Congress Mulls Future of Telehealth

Plan sponsor groups asked lawmakers for policy changes to further encourage and improve telehealth benefits at a March 2 hearing held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health titled “The Future of Telehealth: How COVID-19 is Changing the Delivery of Virtual Care.”

While the witnesses largely agreed on the need to continue access to telehealth flexibilities put in place since the COVID-19 outbreak and ensure that broader use of telehealth does not exacerbate existing access disparities, health care purchasers and providers offered different perspectives on appropriate payment, among other issues.

Elizabeth Mitchell, President and CEO of the Purchaser Business Group on Health, told the panel that it is important to expand effective use of telehealth but that it needs to be “part of a broader shift to a long overdue transition to value-based care.” Mitchell stressed, “. . . the key to getting this right is to adopt payment models and hold health care systems accountable for quality patient experience, equity and total cost of care.”

Dr. Jack Resneck, a member of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees, said that providers have invested significantly in infrastructure to support telehealth and should continue to be paid based on the time spent with the patient and the complexity of the case.

Plan sponsor groups including the ERISA Industry Committee and the American Benefits Council submitted written statements to the subcommittee outlining the rule changes needed to address barriers keeping employers from expanding and improving telehealth benefits.

These changes include allowing employers to offer standalone telehealth benefits to employees, and passing the “Temporary Reciprocity to Ensure Access to Treatment (TREAT) Act” (HR 708/S 168), which would allow medical providers to practice telehealth across state lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other suggestions include making permanent the CARES Act provision allowing HSA-eligible high-deductible health plans to cover telehealth services on a pre-deductible basis, and rejecting any mandates related to telehealth that would hamper employers’ ability to pursue value-based care.

Mercer recently collaborated with the American Benefits Council and the Catalyst for Payment Reform on a white paper, Telemedicine in the Post-COVID-19 World, that is helping to raise awareness of how telemedicine has evolved and offering suggestions for both employers and policymakers on how to best leverage telemedicine to support employer-sponsored health program strategies.

Geoff Manville
by Geoff Manville

Partner, Mercer’s Law & Policy Group

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