Press Releases

ICYMI: After Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher Led Bipartisan Effort to Expand Coverage of Telehealth Services, CMS Changes Rules to Allow Providers to Provide Vital Services to Medicare Patients

Washington, May 7, 2020 | Rocio Cruz

(Houston, TX) – Following a bipartisan effort led by Representatives Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL), and David McKinley (WV-01) calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to expand the types of providers eligible to provide telehealth services under Medicare during the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS announced late last week that physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, and audiology appointments would be covered by Medicare. 

Previously, CMS rules restricted these providers from being reimbursed for telehealth services.  The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act granted CMS the authority to waive these restrictions during a public health emergency.  The members urged CMS to use this authority to ensure patients can access these vital health care services while also practicing the necessary social distancing to remain safe.

“The change in CMS rules is great news for the people in our community who rely on physical, occupational, or speech therapy or audiologic care, but who may have faced a difficult time accessing these services due to social distancing protocols,” said Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher.  “I was glad to lead a letter calling on CMS to use its authority as granted by Congress to ensure these vital health care providers could be reimbursed for telehealth appointments.  We must continue do everything we can to ensure that people in our communities can receive the care that they need as we combat COVID-19.” 

“During the COVID-19 crisis, therapy clinics across the country acted quickly to protect their patients and staff members by transitioning from face to face therapy to teletherapy with very little notice. Therapists and clinic owners across the country knew that we faced an uphill battle for Medicare/Medicaid and commercial insurance companies to reimburse for teletherapy services,” said Amber Humphrey, a constituent of Texas’ Seventh Congressional District and Owner and CEO of Open Door Pediatric Therapy. “I reached out to Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher’s office to advocate for CMS to allow commonly used therapy codes to be covered via teletherapy. With teletherapy now being a covered service, we prevented unnecessary harm and regression of skills that these patients and therapists have fought so hard to gain.”

“Members of the MS community are among some of the most susceptible populations affected by the wide-spread COVID-19 pandemic. Out of an abundance of caution and fear of contracting the virus, many of those living with MS are forgoing in-person appointments that are critical to the treatment of their disease. We are confident that expanding the CARES Act to cover telehealth services for these additional providers will greatly enhance the quality of life and not only provide additional guidance to the MS community during this time, but aid those experiencing other life-altering chronic conditions as well,” said Multiple Sclerosis Association of America’s (MSSA) President and CEO Gina Ross Murdoch.

“In order to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes have to be made in the way we provide healthcare. Representative Fletcher recognized early on that seniors under stay at home orders still have pain and immobility and need their physical therapy treatment,” said Nikesh Patel, PT, DPT, Executive Director of Alliance for Physical Therapy Quality and Innovation (ATQI). “We thank her for her leadership in paving the way for our patients to use telehealth to access their therapy services from the safety of their homes.”

Under Section 3703 of the CARES Act, CMS has the authority to waive certain restrictions for providers to furnish telehealth services during the COVID-19 public health emergency.  In a letter sent to CMS last month, the members noted that precluding therapy professionals from Medicare telehealth reimbursement would lead to a significant lack of access for patients relying on rehabilitative, habilitative, and audiologic care to help them live independently, participate in daily activities, and maintain their overall health and well-being. 

The letter to CMS was also signed by Representatives William Timmons (SC-04), Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), and Don Young (AK-AL). You can read the full text here.