Consolidated Appropriations Act: What It Means for Telehealth Companies

COVID-19 changed everything. It changed how we interacted with friends, colleagues, family, and loved ones.

It changed how we work, go about our daily lives, how often we go out, where we go, what we buy, and perhaps most importantly, how we care for ourselves and receive medical attention.

Throughout the pandemic, people moved en masse towards telemedicine. It offered a convenient way to get up-to-the-minute advice, consultation, and medical attention at a time when most people were reluctant to leave the safety of their homes.

While lawmakers bolstered telehealth services during COVID with the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they were set to expire 151 days after the end of the pandemic. When that didn’t happen, doctors, physicians, and telehealth companies waited to see what the Federal Government would do with the healthcare budget.

Consolidated Appropriations Act

On Dec 29th, 2022, they got their answer. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 was signed, and the 4,155-page legislation outlines the government’s $1.7 trillion healthcare budget. Instead of seeing the annual budget reduced, it was increased, and many provisions in the CARES act were extended.

Even before the 2022 budget approval, there were clear signs that telehealth services were on the rise and here to stay. These services saw an astonishing increase during the height of the pandemic in 2020. They eventually stabilized in 2021, leveling off at 38 times the pre-pandemic levels.

This new 2023 budget provides additional funding to help expand telehealth services. Medical groups and associations all responded to the good news, seeing it as a critical step to protecting patient rights while ensuring affordability. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Hospital Association (AHA), and the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) all voiced their support for the newly-enacted legislation.

So, what does this increased budget mean for telehealth service providers? 

Increasing Service Sites

Telehealth service usage isn’t waning and won’t any time soon. This is more likely a permanent fix and the all-important first step toward the eventual full adoption of virtual healthcare. The 2023 budget provides increased funding to telehealth service providers to provide care to patients wherever they’re located.

Expanding sites is especially beneficial to patients who travel and those needing help when out of state. Laws governing drug medications like medicinal marijuana make it illegal to carry medicinal marijuana across state lines. Even with a medical marijuana card, you can still be charged for drug trafficking.

Patients like these, and many others, will require telehealth services while traveling. They’ll need to be able to access patient care in and out of their state, and they’ll need to do it by phone. This makes it much easier than scheduling a virtual meeting while traveling.

Telehealth companies should immediately start to take advantage of this increased service flexibility. Making patients aware of these changes and how to navigate them ensures those patients rely upon that telehealth provider.

Expanding Audio-Only Services

The budget also has provisions for the expansion and coverage for patients needing audio-only services. For many, virtual healthcare is less than an ideal solution. This is especially true for patients who can’t afford WiFi or live in remote areas where internet connectivity is touch and go.

The only viable means of getting desperately needed services for these individuals are by phone. The elderly are one demographic who are often more comfortable using a phone than using the internet for a virtual meeting.

This expansion of audio-only services will allow telehealth service providers to expand services to hard-to-reach patients living in remote locations. It will also make it easier to ensure that all patients receive the care they desperately need should another pandemic occur. Even without a pandemic, this expansion goes a long way to improving healthcare affordability for millions of patients across the United States.

Additional Expansions

The Consolidated Appropriations Act also has provisions that extend some of the benefits initially launched in the CARES Act of 2020. Of particular importance are those employees with a health savings account (HSA) that qualify or have high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). The CARES act of 2020 allowed employers to provide those employees with telehealth services at pre-deductible levels. That provision was renewed for two years by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023.

This means employees can receive telehealth services from a company or service provider outside their HDHP. In addition, those taking advantage of this option won’t experience any loss of service or see any issues with future HSA contributions and deductions.

This is a direct benefit for both employers and employees. Employers see the extension as a means of helping employees gain better access to health services, while employees are more likely to take advantage as they will no longer have to pay for those services on their own.

Individuals can take further advantage by moving what they would otherwise have paid on their own into additional contributions to their HSA. Many of the associations above (AAFP, AHA, ATA) viewed avoiding these out-of-pocket expenses as helping improve healthcare affordability for millions of Americans.

Telehealth service providers and companies should reach out to employers and patients to advise them of this two-year extension. Helping all patients navigate this extension will help them educate their employers if they are unaware of the extension.

Moving Forward

While this is undoubtedly great news for employers, their employees, and everyday Americans, it is very new. As with new legislation, individuals must be educated on how that legislation impacts them personally.

Telehealth service providers and companies should enact a proactive plan to ensure their members are completely aware of the new legislation, some of its provisions, benefits, and extensions. Reaching out to patients and members will go a long way to helping them access affordable services.

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