The new version of the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on April 22, has industry leaders hopeful for action this session, but a change to the law will likely come with conditions.
The bill, S.1309, would authorize Medicare reimbursement for home health services provided through telehealth during an emergency period. Currently, other providers can bill for telehealth services during the public health emergency (PHE), but home health agencies are prohibited.
“This bipartisan bill would help ensure that seniors who rely on home health care have the choice to receive these critical services through telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said when introducing the measure. “Home health serves a vital role in helping our nation’s seniors avoid more costly hospital visits and nursing home stays.”
If the HEAT Act becomes law, CMS would have the authority to issue a waiver that would allow telehealth visits to count toward in-person visits as included in the plan of care during a PHE, according to the National Association for Home Care and Hospice. The bill would also require a pre-existing relationship between the patient and the ordering physician for an agency to count the telehealth visits toward reimbursement.
Home health services would not be reimbursed unless the beneficiary consents to receiving the services via telehealth, Collins said in her comments. And Medicare reimbursement would only be provided if the telehealth services constitute no more than half of the billable visits made during the 30-day period of care.
Co-sponsors with Collins on the HEAT Act include Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan.; and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. A House version of the bill has not been introduced.