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Telehealth Advocates Launch Task Force to Lobby for Permanent Policy Changes

The American Telemedicine Association, Alliance for Connected Care and NCQA are spearheading a new task force aimed at lobbying Congress to keep the momentum going to telehealth access and coverage beyond COVID-19.

Published Monday, June 22, 2020
by Eric Wicklund

 - Nearly two dozen telehealth advocates, organizations, providers and vendors are joining forces to present a united front in lobbying for long-term connected health access and coverage.

The Taskforce on Telehealth Policy was unveiled today, one day after several high-profile executives appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to discuss lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic and just a few days before the American Telemedicine Association’s annual conference, an all-virtual event this year due to COVID-19.

“The value of telehealth during this emergency is undeniable, and the policy changes that were made by Congress and the Trump Administration were essential,” Krista Drobac, executive director of the Washington DC-based Alliance for Connected Care, said in a press release. “This taskforce can take what we have collectively learned in the past three months and develop thoughtful recommendations that will provide access to remote care for the long term while balancing cost, quality and judicious use of taxpayer dollars.”

The group will be coordinated by three organizations: the ACC, the ATA and the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). Its goals, officials say, include developing “consensus recommendations for policymakers on how to maximize the benefits of telehealth services while maintaining high standards for patient safety and program integrity.”

READ MORE: Experts Weigh in on Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Rules and Policies

 “We need to get this moment in healthcare right by optimizing the quality and value of telehealth for everyone,” NCQA President Margaret (Peggy) O'Kane said in the press release. “The fact that such an accomplished group of people are willing to dedicate their time, on short notice, to this task speaks to how high the stakes truly are.”

“Telehealth has played a vital role in responding to the pandemic, driving a rapid transformation in how care is delivered,” added ATA CEO Ann Mon Johnson. “Working together, we must ensure access to care for all who need it.”

The ATA’s current president, Partners HealthCare executive Joseph Kvedar, was part of the June 17 Capitol Hill hearing, during which he urged lawmakers to take a close look at emergency measures taken during the COVID-19 crisis to expand telehealth access and coverage and make them permanent.

“We need your support in ensuring patients and providers do not go over the telehealth ‘cliff’ as our nation emerges from the pandemic,” Kvedar testified. “Essential telehealth services will abruptly end with the national emergency, and beneficiaries who have come to rely on critical virtual services will be forced back into a world with restricted access to convenient, digitally enabled care.”

“Ensuring (the Health and Human Services Department) and (the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) have the needed flexibility to support high quality, safe and effective virtual care is more important than ever as we look to embrace preparedness for future public health crises and reorient our healthcare system to deliver 21st Century care,” he added.

READ MORE: Telehealth Will Continue to Grow After Coronavirus Pandemic

 

Among those appearing alongside Kvedar were Karen S. Rheuban, director of the Karen S. Rheuban Center for Telehealth at the University of Virginia and a past ATA president; Andrea Willis, senior vice president and chief medical officer with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, one of the first payers in the nation to make telehealth coverage permanent; and Sanjeev Arora, founder and director of the Project ECHO Institute at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

The task force will likely aim to pick up on some of the momentum in recent weeks in telehealth – including comments from CMS Administrator Seema Verma and several members of Congress that federal and state regulators have to take some action to expand telehealth coverage once the national emergency has passed.

“Americans have benefited significantly from this expansion of telehealth and have come to rely on its availability,” roughly 30 senators said in a letter to Congressional leadership this week. “Congress should expand access to telehealth services on a permanent basis so that telehealth remains an option for all Medicare beneficiaries both now and after the pandemic. Doing so would assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends. It would also provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment.”

Aside from O’Kane, Drobac and Johnson, the other members of the task force are:

  • Peter Antall, MD, Chief Medical Officer of American Well;
  • Yul Ejnes, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at Brown University and chair-emeritus of the Board of Regents at the American College of Physicians;
  • Rebekah Gee, MD, CEO of the Louisiana State University Health System;
  • Nancy Gin, MD, Executive Vice President of Quality & Chief Quality Officer, Kaiser Permanente Federation;
  • Kate Goodrich, MD, Senior Vice President Trend and Analytics, Humana;
  • Lawrence “Rusty” Hofmann, MD, medical director for digital health at Stanford Health Care;
  • Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health;
  • Chris Meyer, director of virtual care at the Marshfield Clinic;
  • Sean Cavanaugh, chief administrative officer at Aledade;
  • Kerry Palakanis, DNP, APRN, Executive Director, Connected Care Operations, Intermountain Healthcare;
  • Nicholas Uehlecke, federal liaison with the HHS (non-voting);
  • Michelle Schreiber, MD, director of the quality measurement and value-based incentives group at CMS’ Center for Clinical Standards & Quality;
  • Dorothy Siemon, JD, senior vice president for policy development at the AARP;
  • Julia Skapik, MD, MPH, medical director of informatics for the National Association of Community Health Centers;
  • Jason Tibbels, chief quality officer at Teladoc Health;
  • Andrew Watson, MD, vice president at UPMC; and
  • Cynthia Zelis, MD, MBA, chief medical officer at MD Live.

The group will hold its first meeting before the end of June and have final recommendation in hand by early September.

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