Advocacy in action: Supporting telehealth

UPDATED . 4 MIN READ

Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Medicare program only paid for telehealth services in very limited circumstances: 

  • Patients had to reside in rural areas. 
  • Patients could only receive telehealth services at a medical facility. 
  • Two-way audio-video telecommunications equipment had to be used. 
  • A limited number of services were on the Medicare Telehealth List. 
  • Because payments were at facility rates, they were about 30% below in-office visit rates.

AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians

After fighting for physicians during the pandemic, the AMA is taking on the next extraordinary challenge: Renewing the nation’s commitment to physicians.

COVID-19 sparked policy change and led to dramatic increases in adoption of telehealth by patients and physicians. Early in the pandemic, with strong support from the AMA, such restrictions on coverage for telehealth services were lifted by Medicare and other health plans. 

That move continues to benefit patients. According to an AMA survey of more than 1,300 physicians, 80% of physicians used televisits in 2022. That’s up from just 14% in 2016 and nearly triple from 2019. 

Nearly 70% of doctors say they want to keep providing telehealth services. That should come as no surprise. Not only does telemedicine give more patients access to care, but research shows that telehealth and in-person diagnoses match up nearly 90% of the time,  

Unfortunately, many of the telehealth flexibilities that have greatly improved patient access to care throughout the pandemic are set to expire at the end of 2024.

Telehealth is critical to the future of health care, which is why the AMA continues to lead the charge to aggressively expand telehealth policy, research and resources to ensure physician practice sustainability and fair payment. And that’s why supporting telehealth is an essential component of the AMA Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians

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Policymakers must seize the opportunity to make permanent policy that supports many of these advancements for the long haul. 

Achieving permanent Medicare coverage of telehealth services for patients—including allowing them to continue receiving these services in their homes—is important for patient access to care. The AMA is working to ensure physicians have the tools, resources and support to seamlessly integrate telehealth into their practices without financial risk or penalty. 

That’s why the AMA supports congressional action that includes provisions to: 

  • Lift limitations on the locations of patients and physicians or other clinicians. 
  • Remove in-person requirements for telemental health. 
  • Ensure continued access to clinically appropriate controlled substances without in-person requirements. 
  • Increase access to telehealth services in the commercial market. 

The AMA has: 

  • Achieved passage of legislation to extend Medicare telehealth coverage through 2024.
  • Launched an updated model for—and helped to advance—state telehealth legislation and policy.

The AMA is: 

  • Supporting the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act (S. 2016/H.R. 4189), bipartisan legislation which would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare and make permanent COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities.

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Visit AMA Advocacy in Action to learn more about the advocacy priorities the AMA is actively working on.

The AMA works to generate support for policies critical to the nation’s health care system—and we can’t do it without your help. Learn more about ways to get involved with AMA advocacy.

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