Letter to Congressional Leaders Stresses Urgency of Reinstating Telehealth Safe Harbor
Washington, DC – January 14, 2021 – Today, more than 100 organizations sent a letter to Congress to urge policymakers to reinstate the telehealth safe harbor enacted in the CARES Act that enabled employers and health plans to provide pre-deductible coverage for telehealth services for individuals with high-deductible health plans coupled with Health Savings Accounts (HDHP-HSAs). The letter was convened by the Alliance for Connected Care and includes a diverse mix of signers including patient groups, clinician organizations, employer coalitions, and digital health platforms.
During the pandemic, Congress took swift action as part of the CARES Act to ensure employees could receive covered telehealth services before their deductible is met by allowing employers to provide pre-deductible coverage for such services for individuals with HDHP-HSAs. This safe harbor was not tied to the public health emergency (PHE), and unfortunately expired on December 31, 2021.
The ability to offer pre-deductible telehealth services for employees is a meaningful expansion of health care access for the 32 million Americans with HDHP-HSAs. Congress must act soon to reinstate the virtual care provisions in the CARES Act for individuals with HDHP-HSAs so that millions of Americans can once again access these lifesaving telehealth services on a pre-deductible basis.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress enabled employers to offer pre-deductible coverage for telehealth services, expanding access to care and reducing out-of-pocket costs for millions of Americans. Unfortunately, this flexibility expired on December 31, 2021 despite the ongoing pandemic and recent surge in cases due to the Omicron variant,” said Alliance for Connected Care executive director Krista Drobac. “This was the first pandemic-era telehealth policy to expire, which has and will continue to impact access to needed virtual care services for millions of Americans if Congress does not act to reinstate this provision.”
Bipartisan and widely supported legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would extend this access for patients. The Telehealth Expansion Act of 2021 (S. 1704/H.R. 5981) would permanently extend the CARES Act authority for employers and health plans to offer pre-deductible coverage for telehealth services for individuals with HDHP-HSAs. The Primary and Virtual Care Affordability Act (H.R. 5541) would extend this CARES Act authority through December 31, 2023, and expand this provision to primary care. We strongly urge Congress to take up and consider this legislation and to retroactively reinstate this provision as part of the next possible legislative vehicle.