In a step that's reminiscent of the old adage, "We're mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore," American healthcare organizations and lobbying groups are warning Congress not to cut off current reimbursements for the flow of care offered through telehealth capabilities, which have exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter was sent to Congress’ big four — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York; and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California — from 340 groups and organizations, including some of the most well-known in the country. These groups are concerned that Congress will roll back the traction gained for telehealth when the public health emergency ends.

The letter opened with thanks before moving forward with their concern: "Thank you for acting to expand access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) the authority to waive longstanding restrictions on Medicare telehealth services and ensuring that additional types of health care providers can furnish telehealth services during the pandemic.”

The groups went on to cite providers' new reliance on the flexibilities the technology has allowed them in their desire to continue serving patients despite the limitations of COVID-19. The technology also provided older Americans access to virtual care since March — with more than 11.3 million beneficiaries accessed telehealth services in mid-April alone.

“Medicare Advantage plans have driven a similar expansion with 91% of seniors reporting a favorable telehealth experience and 78% likely to use telehealth again in the future,” the letter said. “Private health plans have also followed suit, and telehealth adoption has soared — resulting in a 4,300% year-over-year increase in claims for March 2020.”

The groups suggest that nearly 50% of Americans have been able to access care while elective procedures were scrapped, and "temporary policy changes” allowed for care provision despite the limitations of not being able to meet face-to-face.

“With so many patients accessing care virtually, expectations for the future of our healthcare system have shifted significantly, and 76% of Americans now report having a strong interest in using telehealth moving forward,” the noted. “Healthcare organizations are dramatically transforming and investing in new technologies to meet the needs of many Americans.”

These groups’ members say all of the policies that allowed for this are limited to the duration of the pandemic, and absent action from Congress, Medicare beneficiaries will lose access to most expanded coverage of telehealth services when the emergency declaration ends.

Such an action would be tragic, they suggest.

"Virtual care has provided unprecedented access for patients, but it has become clear that uncertainty as to the future of telehealth under Medicare will halt or reverse further adoption and utilization — to the detriment of both patients and providers," the groups wrote.

The healthcare groups said Congress has the responsibility for ensuring that billions of dollars in COVID-19 investments are not wasted but used to support the transformation of care delivery.

“We encourage you and your colleagues to consider legislation centered on these priorities before the public health emergency expires, which would end beneficiaries' access to virtual care. These priorities ensure HHS and CMS have the necessary authority to maintain oversight of telehealth services ... while targeting outdated statutory restrictions that discriminate based on geography and patient location,” the groups concluded.