Capitol Correspondence - 04.13.20

ANCOR Joins Coalition Letter on Telehealth by Audio

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As part of its coalition work with the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), ANCOR joined a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requesting audio-only devices (e.g., flip phones) to be allowed in Medicare telehealth supports, as they are in Medicaid. As explained in the letter:

“Under current regulations, CMS only covers telehealth services conducted through ‘communications equipment that includes, at a minimum, audio and video equipment permitting two-way, real-time interactive communication’ (42 C.F.R. §410.78(a)(3)). This rule allows telehealth to be offered to Medicare beneficiaries only through video-conferencing on laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other similar devices, but excludes telephones, such as flip phones. Section 3703 of the recently enacted Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, however, now provides clear authority for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to waive this requirement during a public health emergency, and we urge you to take this step immediately during the remainder of this current crisis.

Many Medicare beneficiaries and some providers lack access to devices with video-conferencing capabilities, broadband or the internet, or simply do not know how to use these devices to communicate in this manner. According to recent reports from the Federal Communications Commission and others, between 21.3 million and 42 million Americans still lack broadband access.

Moreover, our organizations are hearing from our provider agencies, health care professionals , and patients that many Medicare beneficiaries cannot currently be served through Medicare-covered telehealth under the existing restrictions because they do not have access to, or the capability to use, videoconferencing. This is especially true among more vulnerable populations, including older adults, beneficiaries who suffer from mental health and substance use conditions and may be experiencing even greater anxiety and depression now, those located in rural areas, or those with lower incomes. At a time when older adults, particularly those with chronic conditions or mental health/substance use conditions, are extremely vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19 and isolated in their homes, they urgently need to be able to connect to their health care providers by whatever means are available to them.”