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Ernst working to expand access to telehealth in rural areas

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Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are working together to lead a bipartisan effort to continue and increase access to telehealth for rural Iowans. The bill takes the current telehealth flexibilities that were created in response to the pandemic and makes them permanent, which will allow rural providers to expand their infrastructure without needing to worry about the telehealth flexibilities being temporary.

“Even before the pandemic, access to telehealth was critical to helping Iowans in rural areas get the care they need,” Senator Ernst said. “That’s why I prioritized working with Democrats and Republicans to expand access to these services during this difficult year. Now that we’ve seen its success, there’s no reason we shouldn’t make these changes permanent to continue supporting both our rural patients and hospitals.”

The Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act would permanently waive the geographic restriction on patients being treated from their homes, allow Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to directly charge for telehealth services and allow them to be paid according to their previously established payment methods, permanently allow Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to serve as distant sites, and allow payment-parity for audio-only health services for clinically appropriate appointments.

“In rural areas across the United States – especially in West Virginia – many Americans don’t have access to reliable, affordable broadband, which is essential for video telehealth services,” Senator Manchin said. “Instead, many rural Americans utilize audio-only telehealth appointments, which are now equally reimbursed after I fought to ensure that our healthcare professionals are reimbursed fairly for their hard work. When we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic, we immediately recognized the importance of making these telehealth flexibilities permanent. Our bill ensures that rural telehealth providers can give rural Americans the quality care they deserve by eliminating restrictions on the use of telehealth options and ensuring doctors can be reimbursed for services they provide to patients from the comfort of their homes. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join this commonsense legislation to permanently expand telehealth access for all Americans, no matter where they live in our great nation.”

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