Brady Doubts Biden’s Telehealth Commitment; Becerra Offers Assurance

Inside Health Policy

June 8, 2021 3:11 pm

House Ways & Means ranking Republican Kevin Brady (TX) suggested President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget ignores a need to continue telehealth coverage after the COVID-19 public health emergency, but HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told lawmakers Tuesday (June 8) he does not intend to go backwards on such coverage, although the department could use some help from Congress.

“I hope we can work together on issues like the underserved, the poor, the rural, as well as–as ensuring that telehealth, which was one of the saving graces in COVID, can become permanent access and flexibility to connect our patients with their healthcare providers,” Brady said at a Ways & Means hearing on Biden’s budget.

Brady noted that committee Republicans had said at an earlier hearing in April there is room for bipartisan work to expand telehealth use beyond the pandemic.

However, Brady also said that “[t]he possibility that telehealth benefits may soon be stripped from those who relied on it to get through the COVID pandemic is another problem ignored in the Biden budget.”

Becerra also received questions from other lawmakers on the future of telehealth. He responded to a question from Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) by saying telehealth was one of the bright spots of the pandemic but, as authorities to cover telehealth are expiring soon, “now it’s a matter of figuring out how we can deploy some of that long term.”

“We look forward to working with you because some of that authority will have to come through statute. Some of that we could probably do through administrative regulation. But what we do know is we can’t go back to the old way of doing business. We have to take advantage of telehealth,” Becerra said.

Becerra also emphasized a need for broadband across the country, which he had raised at a House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing last month. Plus he stressed the importance of accountability for telehealth services in Medicare and Medicaid. As HHS covers care “further and further from the source, we just want to make sure it’s accountable because taxpayer money, whether Medicare or Medicaid, is in there. We have to make sure we’re getting the value for our dollar,” Becerra said.

Becerra said providing such coverage in an equitable way is important, as well.