Telehealth flexibilities extended in federal spending bill

| | March 21, 2022

Telehealth flexibilities extended in federal spending bill

On March 15, President Biden signed a $1.5 trillion bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill that funds the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year 2022 (through September 30). Appropriations bills often contain policies unrelated to federal spending. Congress uses these “must-pass” spending bills as legislative vehicles to pass other important policies.

In addition to funding the federal government for the fiscal year, this bill proactively extends key Medicare telehealth coverage flexibilities after the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) ends. Expanded telehealth coverage is incredibly popular among both beneficiaries and providers. However, CMS has almost no statutory authority to make any of these policies permanent after the PHE ends (as Congress must pass legislation to extend these policies). While there is broad bipartisan support in Congress to make some of these temporary policies permanent, Congress is still considering many different proposals to achieve this goal.

To allow more time to determine a path forward on a legislative solution, Congress included a section in the omnibus appropriations bill to extend some of these temporary policies for 151 days after the PHE ends.

The 151-day extension applies to:

  • Waiving the policy that limits Medicare telehealth services to rural areas.
  • Waiving the requirement that the patient must be in an “originating site” for the telehealth visit.
  • The expanded list of practitioners who can bill Medicare for telehealth services.
  • Expanded coverage for audio-only telehealth.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must extend the PHE in 90-day increments. HHS said it would provide the public with at least 60-days notice before the PHE ends. Congress could act to pass legislation that makes some or all of the temporary policies permanent before the PHE expires or within the 151-day extension that was included in the omnibus bill.

The omnibus bill also provides funding increases for many important federal agencies and programs.

HHS received an $11.3 billion increase over FY 2021. The bill also increased funding for biomedical research and increased funding for existing agencies, including $6.3 billion for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The FDA received a $102 million increase, bringing its total funding to $3.3 billion (and $6.2 billion when user fees are factored in).