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Smith and O’Halleran Introduce Legislation to Help Rural Clinics and Patients During Pandemic

May 11, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Adrian Smith (R-NE) and Tom O'Halleran (D-AZ) introduced H.R. 6792, the Improving Telehealth for Underserved Communities Act, to improve the Rural Health Clinic (RHC) telehealth fix created by the CARES Act. While the CARES Act allowed RHCs to begin providing telehealth services to their Medicare patients, the reimbursement provision required RHCs which provide telehealth services to do a significant amount of new paperwork and inadvertently created a reimbursement system where payment can be higher for a telehealth service than a traditional, in-person visit.

H.R. 6792 would simplify the Medicare payment system for RHCs and reduce paperwork by reverting their telehealth reimbursement to the standard reimbursement formula for RHCs and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). It would also provide additional financial relief for independent RHCs, which operate on extremely thin margins. These margins have led many independent RHCs to close in recent years.

“Rural health care faces enough challenges normally, let alone during this pandemic. We must do everything we can to help rural providers so they can focus on serving their patients,” said Rep. Smith. “We also must seize the benefits of telehealth. Fixing unintended flaws in reimbursement system will give these clinics and their patients the freedom to use these life-saving technologies.”

“Telehealth will expand access to care for so many families in rural and tribal Arizona, especially as we all do our part to slow the spread of this virus by staying home and practicing social distancing,” said Rep. O’Halleran. “I introduced the bipartisan Improving Telehealth for Underserved Communities Act to ensure that rural and federally qualified health centers throughout Arizona’s First Congressional District are not buried under paperwork and fees, but are able to focus on providing the best possible care for their patients.”