Caitlin Clement|6/29/2023|3 min read

How the CONNECT for Health Act Will Affect Telehealth Companies

The permanent expansion of telehealth services and flexibilities may be on the way

stethoscope wrapped around a gavel laying on a desk with blurred white male in the background

It’s safe to say that if the CONNECT for Health Act is passed, it would permanently cement telehealth as a healthcare solution for patients across the U.S. The goal of this act is to promote higher quality of care by increasing access to care and reduce spending in Medicare through the expansion of telehealth services.

Currently, telehealth flexibilities and waivers have been extended by the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act of 2022 until December 31, 2024—a temporary fix. The CONNECT Act, first introduced in 2021, is a more permanent solution to the future use of virtual care in health practices. 

Reasoning behind the introduction of the CONNECT for Health Act

According to a senate document summarizing the main points of the CONNECT Act, there are four supporting elements policymakers identified for the telehealth legislation.

  • Numerous studies on telehealth have shown increased benefits for quality of care, access to care and reduced healthcare spending.

  • Telehealth increases access to care in areas with workforce shortages and for patients who live in rural or remote regions, have limited mobility or transportation or have other barriers to accessing care.

  • However, current statutory restrictions, such as geographic and originating site requirements, create barriers to coverage that limit the use of telehealth in Medicare.

  • Many of these restrictions have been waived during the COVID-19 pandemic to increase access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the public health emergency but are set to end in December 2024. 

So, what should telehealth companies and payers expect?

Removal of telehealth coverage barriers

The aim of reintroducing the CONNECT Act is to make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors and receive care. By making certain telehealth flexibilities permanent, it widens access to care and encourages better patient outcomes for those experiencing health disparities.

“Telehealth has proven itself as a valuable tool in delivering essential care, and one that has helped address health disparities for populations with diminished access to care,” said Senator Cardin of Hawaii in a statement

If this act is passed, it would:

  • Permanently allow all federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics to use telehealth services.

  • Allow for the waiver of telehealth restrictions during public health emergencies.

  • Permanently remove all geographic restrictions and originating site requirements, creating barriers to coverage that limit the use of telehealth in Medicare.

  • Allow more eligible healthcare professionals to use telehealth and virtual care.

  • Remove necessary telemental health in-person visit requirements.

  • Require more public data and research to be done in order to learn about telehealth, how it's being used, its impact on quality of care and how it can be improved to support patients and healthcare providers. 

Better program integrity

The goal of this Act is to provide better quality of care across all patients populations, part of that requires building resources and training that promote program integrity. The legislation addresses this in a few ways.

1. The first is clarifying that providing technologies to Medicare beneficiaries for the use of telehealth is not considered “remuneration” under fraud and abuse laws. By eliminating barriers to Medicare coverage it can encourage wider adoption of telehealth as a care option.

“Medicare coverage of telehealth offers immense opportunities to create better access to health care for rural and other underserved communities, reduces travel time, and serves as a vital tool for patients to receive seamless care with their existing physicians,” said Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, President of the American Medical Association in the same statement.

2. The second is that additional resources be provided to the HHS Office of Inspector General for telehealth oversight activities.

3. Finally, the Act will require additional provider and beneficiary education on telehealth, including to support underserved and high-risk populations in utilizing telehealth services.

The introduction of required/additional education on telehealth and the use of its tools will allow providers to execute a hybrid-care model more effectively and therefore, see more widespread adoption within health organizations. 

Increase data and testing of model

In order to publically document and get a better understanding of telehealth’s impact on quality of care and patient experience, the legislation proposes a few studies and analysis to be conducted. 

The CONNECT Act would require a study on telehealth utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorize a model to test allowing additional health professionals to furnish telehealth services and encourage the CMS Center to test telehealth models in Medicare. 

“One of the lessons we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that our healthcare system is more adaptable than we thought. Over the last three years, patients have received quality care from the comfort of their own homes through the expansion of telehealth services,” said Senator Warner. Now it’s just a matter of collecting the data to further support that. 

If greenlit, these studies could benefit the future adoption of and continued investment in telehealth technologies as a mode of care. The emergence of more hybrid or virtual-first care models would mean greater healthcare flexibilities for patients dealing with health disparities. Providers might also be more inclined to tap into telehealth as a tool to address SDOH and create more personalized health plans. 

Expand your telehealth toolbox with OpenLoop

OpenLoop is a telehealth support company offering a full-suite of superior services, giving health organizations and their providers the tools to build better patient outcomes. Services like our intuitive, API driven technology platform and 6000+ NCQA accredited clinician network—just to name a few—allow our clients to manage their patients and build quality care outcomes. 

With our mission of providing healing anywhere, OpenLoop has been committed to expanding patient access to quality healthcare and board-certified clinicians. 

Interested in what our services can offer your organization? Get in touch here!

Our full suite of Telehealth Support Services include: